HARARE – The fallout within government and Zanu PF circles over President Robert Mugabe’s mortifying tumble at the Harare International Airport last week is apparently escalating.
Sources told the Daily News yesterday that official consternation over the matter was now focused on the source of the leaks of the damaging pictures and videos of the fall, which quickly went viral even after the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) forced journalists from the private media to delete their pictures of the incident.
And as the inquest into the leaks gathers steam, it emerged yesterday that rowdy Zanu PF youths, allegedly supported by intelligence officials, were harassing vendors and other citizens going about their business in Marondera, by checking their mobile phones for images of the fall.
At the same time, the editor of the State-controlled The Herald newspaper, Caesar Zvayi, felt moved enough yesterday to officially dismiss reports that claimed that sub-editors at the daily who were on duty when Mugabe fell were in trouble with authorities over the publication of the photos and story of the incident — as the heat over the incident rises.
But sources who spoke to the Daily News yesterday said the anger within official circles also included the “perplexing fact that exactly the same pictures used in the State media were the same ones used by the international media”.
“There is a lot of suspicion around these pictures in terms of their source and how they ended up circulating around the world a mere two hours after Mugabe fell down.
“What is indisputable is that the pictures taken by the private media were all deleted by the CIO at the airport, which leaves questions around those pictures that were in official circles,” one source said.
“There is this perplexing fact that exactly the same pictures used in the State media were the same ones used by the international media.
“Even video photographers from organisations such as SABC and AP were forced to delete their images, so the pictures that went viral could only have come from someone in a privileged position and whose pictures were not deleted, hence the massive probe.
“There has been an argument that the pictures could have been taken by smart phones, but again that argument does not hold water because the pictures were clearly shot from a professional camera and the angle from which they were taken from shows that there were no party supporters there except journalists and government officials only,” another source said.
Contacted for comment yesterday, presidential spokesperson George Charamba declined to shed light on the matter.
The Daily News’ sister paper, the Daily News on Sunday reported at the weekend that First Lady Grace Mugabe was said to be apoplectic about alleged poor planning and response by Mugabe’s aides when the nonagenarian fell last week.
Sources said 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 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,” another 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.
Grace was also said to be upset with the fact that photographs and video evidence of the fall had leaked on the Internet almost immediately after the incident, and despite assurances that the CIO 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.
It is understood that the CIO, on its part, 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.
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.