HARARE – A worried First Lady, Grace Mugabe, is said to be apoplectic about the alleged poor planning and response by President Robert Mugabe’s aides when the nonagenarian fell at the Harare International Airport last Wednesday.
Sources told the Daily News on Sunday yesterday that so angry was Grace — whom Mugabe has said is recuperating from a minor operation in Singapore — that she had allegedly demanded the heads of all the implicated people to roll, including those of some security details.
“She was raving mad when she heard of the incident and felt that his aides and security team were negligent in this unfortunate issue.
“As any spouse would do, she is clearly fearful that things could have turned really nasty on the day given the president’s age and state of health, and is thus keen to see that this is never repeated.
“This is one of the reasons why petrified government officials and State media have gone into overdrive to try and play FROM P1
down the incident, and to abuse anyone who has shone a negative spotlight on the incident,” one of the sources said.
Another source claimed that Grace’s anger emanated from the fact that Mugabe’s aides had seemingly not planned the airport rally and podium arrangements well, as well as the fact that security details had allegedly taken too long to react to the nonagenarian’s fall.
“She is angry because President Mugabe’s staff knew very well that he has difficulty walking, especially climbing and walking down steps, but did not appear to have factored this in at the airport.
“And when he tumbled over, the security team appears to have been taken unawares, which calls into question their alertness,” the second source said.
The increasingly frail Mugabe fell after he had just finished addressing his supporters after returning from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he took over the rotating ceremonial chairmanship of the African Union.
Although he appeared unhurt after the nasty incident — which occurred in full view of gathered bigwigs, Zanu PF rank and file members and journalists — it triggered visible panic among senior government officials and security chiefs, who all scrambled to try and help him get on his feet and to ensure that he was alright.
It apparently did not also assist Grace’s mood that photographs and video evidence of the fall had leaked on the Internet almost immediately after the incident, and despite
assurances that the secret service had confiscated and destroyed all images that had been captured by the private media.
This had created suspicions about the source of the images and whether State media or Zanu PF officials and members had been complicit in the damaging leaks that made global news.
Aggressive security personnel moved promptly to force gathered photojournalists, including a crew from the Daily News and the Daily News on Sunday, to delete their prized pictures of the fall.
“There is a witch hunt as we speak to sniff out the sources of the leaks, amid reports that Amai wants those responsible to be severely punished.
“You must remember how allergic she is to these kinds of intrusions as exemplified by her negative reaction to a pesky photographer in the Far East a few years ago,” another source said.
It is understood that the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) is now conducting an internal review to determine the facts around the president’s fall, although it is not known when this is expected to be completed — with the results expected to guide any security adjustments and personnel actions that may be necessary to ensure the health and safety of the First Family.
Meanwhile, other sources claim that there are efforts to get respected former African heads of States such as Thabo Mbeki and ailing former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda to persuade Grace — the self-evident power behind the throne — to let Mugabe retire owing to his failing health and advanced age.
“It’s Grace who holds the cards and has the final decision if Mugabe is to retire, but no one is very optimistic given Grace’s behaviour,” one of the sources said.
Mugabe’s critics say it is now time for the nonagenarian to either resign or retire due to his advanced age and failing health. But empathetic opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said, “It’s very unfortunate even though it is understandable at his age. I hope he gets the medical attention he deserves.”
Sibongile Mgijima, deputy national spokesperson for Welshman Ncube’s MDC, said Mugabe must resign.
“There is everything wrong with a 91-year-old man who wants to pretend that his body is not succumbing to the natural process of aging.
“Most 91-year-olds use canes to assist them to walk. If president Mugabe had done the same, perhaps he could have prevented this nasty fall.
“It goes to show that he now lacks co-ordination with his brains. He can no longer continue to deceive Zimbabweans that he is both mentally and physically fit. It is time to leave office, stay home and tell stories to his grandchildren,” Mgijima said.
MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu weighed in saying Mugabe was “an old man” who now needed to seriously contemplate stepping down.
“He is soon turning 91 and at that advanced age, a person’s health and general physical fitness become severely strained.
“As the MDC, we have repeatedly stated on account of his increasingly failing health, as well as advanced age, that Mugabe is no longer fit for purpose.
“Here is a geriatric who gives himself an extremely punishing schedule as a husband to a relatively young wife, a father to children young enough to be his grandchildren, a president of a country whose economy is virtually comatose, the chair of both Sadc and the African Union, as well as being the chancellor of more than 12 State universities!
“His plate is rather too full for an ailing nonagenarian,” Gutu told our sister paper the Daily News, adding that it was regrettable that more often than not, Mugabe was “hopping from one aeroplane onto another”.
Evans Sagomba, a spokesperson for Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn, said given the events at the airport, it was high time Mugabe called it quits.
“It’s a big sign. It’s time for the old man to rest. Everyone was there and it’s a clear sign that they should let the old man rest. What more do you want? Everybody was there and it happened right in front of them, even the generals.
“We are not gloating over this. We can’t laugh at it because he is an old man. But it happened in a public place. They should have a meeting say the old man must rest. It’s a clear message,” Sagomba said.
Dewa Mavhinga, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said Mugabe’s fall was a sad development.
“His party and family should seriously talk about Mugabe’s overdue retirement and not scapegoat the fall as resulting from a poorly laid out carpet,” he said, referring to the spin by lickspittle State media about the alleged cause of the fall.
“The president’s upcoming 91st birthday this month is a good opportunity to seriously reflect on calling it a day,” Mavhinga added.
Mugabe is the only leader Zimbabweans have known since the country’s independence from Britain in 1980, in a region where most of the neighbouring countries have had up to six different leaders during the same time.
He has come under increasing political pressure at home — both from within and outside his ruling party — and is subject to travel bans in the European Union and in the USA because of allegations of gross human rights violations against him and his administration.