THE effects of age and ill-health seem to be taking a heavy toll on President Robert Mugabe as he exhibited embarrassing memory blackouts and eyesight problems while addressing delegates at his birthday celebrations in Victoria Falls on Saturday.
The Zanu PF leader struggled to read his prepared speech and ended up addressing the crowds from his head where he intermittently suffered memory lapses.
Mugabe’s eyesight problems became apparent when he failed to read clearly what was written on his prepared speech and he blundered saying the celebrations were for his “21st” birthday instead of 91st.
The actual portion that Mugabe wanted to read was: “once again I thank you for the support, blessings and gifts that you all bring as you come to celebrate 21st February, which this year coincides with my 91st birthday.”
After the first blunder, Mugabe temporarily stopped reading the speech and started addressing the gathering from his head, where he then experienced memory blackouts, constantly shaking his head as if to shake his memory into place.
Mugabe went on to talk about things which were not written in his speech until he read the closing remarks.
His eyesight was also tested when he nearly fell after missing a step on the staircase from the podium at the end of the function on his way to his waiting limousine.
First Lady Grace Mugabe who had helped him down the staircases had to come in handy and give him a helping hand to avoid another embarrassing fall which would have come a month after he tripped and fell off the staircases at the Harare International Airport on his return from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
“At his age it is natural for him to have eyesight problems. This can be faced by any other person of his age and there is nothing newsworthy about that. We should not concentrate on trivial issues, but celebrate his life,” a senior Zanu PF and government official said after the near mishap.
“It is not peculiar to Mugabe alone and cannot be used as a test of his health condition.”
Mugabe has been facing health problems recently and has travelled several times to the Far East to have his eyes checked.
At one time Mugabe flew in a hush to Singapore where he was filmed arriving at an upmarket health institution – and his office said he had gone to have cataracts removed.NEWSDAY