By Gift Phiri
HARARE – President Robert Mugabe’s warring Zanu PF is teetering on the edge after he embarrassingly read the wrong speech on Tuesday — with powerful First Lady Grace Mugabe, party hardliners and security chiefs apparently now baying for the blood of those who exposed the frail nonagenarian to public ridicule.
Underpinning Grace’s anger, as well as that of the security chiefs and the group of Zanu PF’s ambitious Young Turks known as the Generation 40 (G40) — which is locked in a vicious power struggle with Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s supporters — is a suspicion that the nonagenarian was set up to demonstrate that he was well past “his political sell-by-date”.
Well-placed sources last night said that it was certain “heads will roll”, amid the suspicions that some of the factions in the bitterly-divided ruling party may have exchanged the right speech for the wrong one to embarrass Mugabe and to put pressure on him to resign in the hope of wrestling power.
This follows Tuesday’s extraordinary events when Mugabe obliviously ploughed through the wrong speech — reading the same one which he delivered during his much-criticised State-of-the-Nation address three weeks ago as he opened the current Parliamentary session in Harare.
Mugabe’s correct speech was read by Mnangagwa yesterday and he appeared to confirm that investigations were going on when asked in Parliament by an MDC MP about the monumental blunder and whether they were going to carry out a probe. He said:
“The mistake is regretted but it is not the duty of the legislature to interrogate the executive because it’s true that the duty as to why that mistake happened lies with the executive.”
One of the sources who spoke to the Daily News said Grace was “seething with anger over the mix-up”, which she and other top Zanu PF officials viewed as “a deliberate act of sabotage”.
Apparently, the Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet, Misheck Sibanda, had already tasked presidential spokesperson George Charamba to “look into what happened” and make recommendations on “how the administration can make sure that something like this does not happen again, ever”.
A brief statement by Charamba on Tuesday, which was released just after Mugabe’s boob, claimed that the “mix-up” happened in the nonagenarian’s secretarial office.
Another source insisted in an interview with the Daily News that what happened on Tuesday was allegedly “a well choreographed and deliberate ploy to embarrass the president” — urging authorities to investigate “those who were fighting to succeed the president”.
“Firstly, I want to make it clear that George Charamba’s explanation that there was a mix up in the secretarial pool is a joke. Is he saying the president gets the speech straight from the typing pool?
“These people must stop misleading the president and the nation, and heads must roll. There is nothing like that. Charamba must not take people for fools.
“Inquiries so far suggest strongly that there are some Zanu PF comrades who are desperate to succeed President Mugabe at all costs.
“Remember also that last time these same people instigated MDC MPs to boo and heckle the president, and when the security structures took measures to avoid this, the same faces devised this plan to embarrass him by slipping the wrong speech in the president’s file.
“It does not make sense that other copies like those meant for the media were correct and only the president’s speech was the wrong one. How, when they were printed at once?
“In any case, is Charamba telling us that the president does not revise his speech or that Charamba himself does not check the speech before it is delivered? Can we be made to believe that the speech comes straight from the typing pool to the president to deliver? No man.
“What is clear is that the president is on his own, and the people who claim to like him so much who are around him are traitors. The President’s Office must look at the factions in the party and not be fooled that this was a mistake.
“The truth is that these people want the nation and the world to believe that Mugabe is now too old to continue ruling and want to take advantage of the constitutional provision of replacing him without going for elections. That constitutional provision is the most dangerous in our country and must be amended as soon as possible.
“Curiously, why is it that when the president clearly went offside, his aides did not alert him to this? Why was he allowed to look bad like that? Why were the MPs, some of them very educated, clapping hands for him for an old speech? That was pure evil,” said the irate senior Zanu PF official.
Zanu PF legislators gleefully ululated and clapped their hands — urging Mugabe on — even as it was abundantly clear that “the emperor had no clothes”, as one opposition MP put it on Tuesday.
Charamba was seen frantically approaching Mnangagwa during the nonagenarian’s calamitous speech, in a futile endeavour to try and rescue his boss from further embarrassment.
Another source said “the press secretary (Charamba) and chief of protocol Munyaradzi Kajese” were supposed to help with the preparations and handling of Mugabe’s speeches, adding that “both need to explain”.
“There’s simply no excuse for it … was there no one who understood the significance of what they were doing? Somebody’s head should roll for this. … This is deliberate,” he said — adding that the blunder raised security concerns around Mugabe.
“What can stop the president from being made to read a resignation speech unawares in future,” he also asked.
However, other Zanu PF and government officials played down the significance and negative implications of the blunder, saying that secretaries who had been responsible for this often worked with no supervision.
“It appears that very junior people were just trying to follow an order without realising their mistake and its ramifications,” one of the less negative officials said.
Alex Magaisa, a former advisor to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, said it was possible that the boob was an honest but negligent mistake.
“The president’s spokesperson George Charamba has called it a mix-up. It probably is. But given the political climate that is fraught with suspicions as the race to succeed president Mugabe intensifies, there will be a flurry of conspiracy theories.
“Fingers will be pointed at some people. Which faction do they belong to, they will ask? Are they not Gamatox — short-hand for those who are allegedly aligned to former VP Mujuru, ousted last year and now challenging president Mugabe?
“It will be said that this was a deliberate move to embarrass president Mugabe, to undress him before the nation’s eyes and ultimately before the world, such is the attention that the man attracts across the world.
“It will be said that this was an intentional ploy to paint a negative picture that President Mugabe is now too old; that his wits have escaped him. If, as it seems, it was a genuine error, this will be sad, but it’s almost inevitable that someone will be made to pay the price for it. This is politics after all — someone must take responsibility,” Magaisa said.
In the aftermath of the blunder, the main opposition MDC claimed that the president’s immediate departure was now necessary to stem the country’s feared slide into chaos.
“This clearly goes to show that Robert Mugabe no longer has the requisite mental faculties that are needed for him to continue in office as the Head of State,” MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said.
Lovemore Madhuku, leader of the opposition National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), said for Mugabe to deliver the same speech showed that the president was running “a clumsy government”.
“It is that clumsiness that accounts for our social and economic decay,” Madhuku said. Daily News