Harare – It was the only sign of his 90-plus years: President Robert Mugabe forgot his longtime political rival’s name.
“Pasi (down with) -,” he said as he wound up a more than 90-minute long speech to rally-goers in Zimbabwe’s market town of Marondera on Friday. And then he stopped.
There was a moment or two’s hesitation – before the president remembered.
“Anonzi (he’s called) Morgan Tsvangirai,” Mugabe said, a relieved smile upon his face.
For years, Mugabe and Zanu-PF officials have ended just about every campaign speech with the words “Pamberi (forward with) Zanu-PF” and “Pasi neMDC” or “Pasi naTsvangirai.”
Friday’s speech looked to be the start of Mugabe’s campaign for the 2018 elections – when he’ll be 94.
Watching Mugabe weave his oratorial magic at this rally (he promised youths land and criticised white farmers), some commentators saw evidence that the president was not as frail as has recently been reported.
Said journalist and activist @rashweatm on Twitter: “Listening to Prez Mugabe addressing supporters… no doubt he still has energy&poise to lead his party in 2018 polls. Change deferred.”
Tweeted former Chronicle editor @Mathuthu: “Mugabe looks really energised. Everything points to him as 2018 candidate. He thrives in this kind of adulation.”
But there were tiny inescapable signs of age, including the big black umbrella held above Mugabe that obscured his face and was likely intended to protect his eyes: his spokesperson George Charamba said last month that Mugabe had eye problems and often needed to rest his eyes.
And there was that moment of forgetfulness right at the end.
It might also have been confusion: after all, opposition parties including Tsvangirai’s MDC and others have been making moves towards the formation of a coalition. It’s still not 100% certain that Tsvangirai would lead any eventual coalition.
Still, Mugabe kicked off his campaign in style and with strength.
What – or who – comes next? The coming 12 months in Zimbabwe will be VERY interesting.