Fungi Kwaramba 4 April 2017
HARARE – Zimbabwe was abuzz yesterday after President Robert Mugabe was
given a “special massage chair” by his ministers, as part of gifts to mark
his 93rd birthday celebrations.
The gift immediately raised eyebrows – sparking both mirth and frenzied
debate, especially on social media, about its “meaning” and symbolism in
light of Mugabe’s advanced age, declining health and his wife Grace’s
recent controversial statement that he could rule from a wheelchair.
At the brief chair presentation ceremony in Harare, which was exclusively
covered by State media, Mugabe was also given a 9-carat gold watch and pen
by his lieutenants.
But it was the chair which set tongues wagging after the gaffe-prone State
broadcaster, the ZBC, described the chair in its initial online reports as
a “special mobile chair” – giving the erroneous impression that this was a
The much-derided broadcaster later changed this to reflect that this was
“a massage chair”, although by then the damage had been done.
“The ministers presented president Mugabe with a special mobile chair. He
was accompanied by the First Lady Grace Mugabe.
” . . . Mugabe thanked the ministers for putting their heads together in
coming up with the idea of the gift, saying the move is a manifestation of
the team spirit which should always prevail at all times in the delivery
of services to the nation,” the ZBC said in its initial report.
The only leader Zimbabweans have known since the country gained its
independence from Britain in April 1980, Mugabe – who is also the world’s
oldest elected leader – has in recent months appeared very tired and
This much became more evident during the nonagenarian’s 93rd birthday
celebrations held in Matobo, Matabeleland South, in February.
While still very sharp mentally, especially given his age, Mugabe also
struggled with his speech during his earlier annual birthday interview
with the ZBC-TV, in which he frequently paused for breath in between his
Meanwhile, and speaking during a rally at Murehwa Business Centre in 2015,
Grace warned Zanu PF heavyweights that she was going to design a special
wheelchair from which Mugabe would rule until he was 100 years old.
“We are going to create a special wheelchair for president Mugabe until he
rules to 100 years because that is what we want. That is the people’s
choice. We want a leader that respects us,” she said then.
And in February this year, the powerful first lady stunned Zanu PF
supporters at a rally in Buhera when she said if Mugabe were to die,
Zimbabweans would vote for his corpse.
She said Mugabe was irreplaceable, adding that Zimbabweans would find it
difficult to get someone after him with his qualities.
“There can be miracles. If God decides that Mugabe should go and we put
pictures of his corpse on the ballot paper, people will still vote for him
and he will win the election,” she said.
Mugabe’s health has over the past 10 years or so become a major topic of
discussion both at home and abroad.
This has been more so as the nonagenarian has in recent years been making
regular visits to Singapore for medical checkups – amid wild speculation
about his real state of health in the absence of official information.
In February this year, Mugabe once again visited his doctors in the Far
East in what his office said then was a scheduled trip, even as this came
on the back of another visit during the festive season for what was also
described at the time as a routine checkup trip.
The nonagenarian has suffered a number of public mishaps in recent years,
including his widely-reported tumble at Harare International Airport in
February 2015, as he walked off a podium.
This happened after he had just finished addressing his supporters after
returning from Ethiopia where he had gone to take over the rotating
chairmanship of the African Union.
Although he appeared unhurt after the fall, the incident – which occurred
in the full view of gathered bigwigs, Zanu PF rank and file members and
journalists – triggered panic among senior government officials and
security chiefs, who all scrambled to help him get on his feet, and to
ensure that he was alright.
Mugabe also later stumbled in New Delhi, at an India-Africa summit, and
had to use a wheelchair at the 60th Asian-African Conference Commemoration
that was held in Indonesia.
Offensively, the nonagenarian has also had to endure sickening jokes and
false reports about his alleged death – prompting him to put down these
sadists by saying that he had “died” many times more than Jesus Christ.
“I have died many times. That’s where I have beaten Christ. Christ died
once and resurrected once. I am as fit as a fiddle. At this age, I can
still go some distance, can’t I?
“There are things one must do for oneself. Don’t drink at all, don’t
smoke, you must exercise and eat vegetables and fruit,” he said in an
interview with the ZBC, ahead of his 88th birthday in 2012.
Despite his advanced age and deteriorating health, as well as the growing
pressure within his ruling Zanu PF for him to step down, Mugabe has thus
far not dropped any hint of his retirement plans – moving recently to
effectively shut the door on his lieutenants in his fractured party who
are angling to succeed him.