IF IT’S a new year, you can bet on a rash of stories regaling readers with the “imminent” departure from the political stage of Zimbabwe’s 91-year-old leader, Robert Mugabe.
There’s the usual spate of stories talking of Mugabe’s recent “falls” and “critical condition” jostling for tabloid space with more recent accounts of how he sleeps through meetings and rereads old speeches. This narrative arose again this week when lawyer Tinomudaishe Chinyoka approached the country’s constitutional court to make a ruling on whether parliament can be directed to investigate if Mugabe is physically and mentally fit to rule the country.
After 35 years in power he may nap through a few meetings, but Mugabe hasn’t given up that easily, and he remains a potent symbol of Zanu-PF’s iron grip on power. However, he has been largely discounted by his potential successors, who are positioning themselves for a post-Mugabe world. Indeed, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai claims there’s been a “palace coup” and Mugabe’s wife, Grace, the 50-year-old leader of the women’s league of Zanu-PF, is already calling the shots.
There are others in the running too — a list that includes the formidable Joice Mujuru, a former confidante of Mugabe’s until she was accused of orchestrating a plot to unseat him, and Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s former spy boss.
But while the leaders wrestle for power, Zimbabwe’s much-touted economic revival, which seemed to be gaining pace four years ago, has stuttered to a halt. Last week, Zimbabwe declared a “national emergency” as rampaging drought threatens to leave 2.4m people — 26% of the population — without adequate food.
Yet, in just a few days, Mugabe will turn 92 and reports from the cash-strapped country suggest government has set aside US$800,000 (R12.9m) to celebrate the event.
In a cash-strapped country staring down food shortages, that tells you all you need to know about the ruling party’s priorities.-FM