By Thelma Chikwanha
HARARE – Four years after the Daily News first broached the subject of whether President Robert Mugabe was still fit to rule, debate is raging once again about the nonagenarian’s capacity to effectively remain at the helm of the country that he has presided over with an iron fist for most of the past 35 years.
In addition to his advanced age and increasingly poor health, that is commensurate with his age, requiring him to make frequent and costly State-funded visits to the Far East for medical attention, Mugabe is also contending with arguably his biggest political challenge since Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain in April 1980 — an open rebellion by many senior members of his ruling Zanu PF party.
His controversial and increasingly influential wife, Grace, has also lately added to his woes by wading aggressively into formal national politics, culminating in the brutal purges of many senior Zanu PF officials that include former Vice President Joice Mujuru — in an ill-advised move that has worsened the ruling party’s ugly factional and succession wars.
Analysts and spokespersons for opposition political parties who spoke to the Daily News said it was time for the nonagenarian to step down as he had allegedly now become a “lame duck” and “absentee” president who was often travelling outside the country on “frivolous” missions or for medical attention than actually governing the country.
A medical practitioner who spoke to the Daily News, but who cannot be quoted openly for professional reasons, said 91 years was “a blessed but very advanced age” where conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease were common.
“There is no doubt that the president has been blessed with a long, relatively healthy life. But even for him, one can see that age has caught up with him, as is natural. Only about one in a million people have the same aptitude they had when they were 50 at that age,” the doctor said.
He said it was generally unwise to saddle people in that age group with the kind of stress and responsibility as that of a president, as they were no longer at peak performance both physically and mentally.
“Diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia at that age mean that one tends to have a short memory at that age. Such people usually dwell on the past and live their life in the past and fail to adapt to the present.
“Concentration is also a big challenge because people at that age find it difficult to stay awake for long periods. If you have to make an executive decision, you need to have an aptitude for current affairs,” the doctor added.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC said it was now time for Mugabe to pass on the baton stick to somebody else who could stand up to the rigours of the job.
“Apparently, his health is failing and I think he is not doing himself any good by clinging onto power whilst he is now in that state of health.
“It’s time for him to take a bow from the hazardous and extremely demanding job of engaging in active politics. He should start writing his memoirs.
“In fact, I can volunteer to write his biography for absolutely no charge! The old man should simply step down and rest,” party spokesperson Obert Gutu said.
Jacob Mafume of the renewal team added his voice saying, “We have maintained that old age is an illness that humanity has failed to cure despite all its best efforts.
“It therefore follows to reason that at 91, Mugabe is a very sick person who needs intensive care or home-based care. Until humanity finds a cure, we need to keep our elderly in a safe place where they can do no harm to themselves or to others.
“That place is usually an old people’s home or if one is privileged enough, home-based care with a dedicated nurse. Now to say that such a person is running a country is stretching it too far and an act of gross irresponsibility,” Mafume said.
Gladys Hlatwayo, a Hubert Humphrey fellow at the University of Minnesota said as Mugabe was getting older and more frail, the centre within Zanu PF was increasingly shifting.
“It looks like the wife is now in the driving seat. The events in Zanu PF over the past four to six months support this theory. He (Mugabe) is human like all of us and other 91-year-olds are long retired and enjoying entertaining their grandchildren.
“This is why people are sceptical about his ability to rule at that advanced age,” she said.
McDonald Lewanika, the director of Crisis Coalition in Zimbabwe, said Mugabe had been unfit to rule for a long time.
“This is an open secret based on the state of his health which, uncharacteristic of most heads of states in other nations, has been kept a secret.
“His age and state of health since the late 1990s has been an issue but more than the natural impediments to ability imposed by health and age, Mugabe has been and is unfit to rule because of his repressive and autocratic methods of rule.
“In any case if other Sadc and AU leaders were sincere, and if people in Zanu were sincere, they would have told him this by now,” Lewanika said. Daily News