The president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe has, for the first time, responded to Julius Malema’s scathing attacks on him.
Mugabe touched on Malema’s persistent attacks on him while speaking to reporters during his traditional birthday interview, to mark his 93rd birthday.
During the interview with the state television, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), held over the weekend, Mugabe rubbished and downplayed Malema’s utterances about him stepping down as Zim’s president.
Mugabe admitted that he has been in power for long but insisted that the call to step down must come from his party – ZANU PF – not from the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).
Mugabe said: “Do you listen to anything from Malema? Who is Malema? The call to step down must come from my party; my party at Congress; my party at Central Committee. (In such circumstances) I will step down.”
A bold Mugabe, however, told reporters that his prolonged stay in power is tied to the unavailability of a viable successor in the country. He disclosed that majority of Zimbabweans still want him to stand as the country’s president in the next general election.
“….But then what do you see? It’s the opposite. They want me to stand for elections, they want me to stand for elections everywhere in the party . . . .The majority of the people feel that there is no replacement; (a) successor who to them is acceptable, as acceptable as I am,” he added.
In the middle of last month, Malema, who used to be outspoken in his praise of the now-nearly-93-year-old leader, said Mugabe is now too old to discharge his duties and lead the people. He advised the “grandpa” to honorably step down before he ends up destroying the legacies he had already built-up.
No doubt, Mugabe has no obvious anointed successor, making it unclear what direction the country will take after its only post-independence leader dies or finally loses in the next general election. He has avoided naming a viable successor and his party is divided between factions competing forcefully to succeed him.
Regardless of the scuffle within and outside his party, the longest serving president has also pointed out that the Zanu-PF is always primed to win at the polls.
Last week, Mugabe’s wife – Grace’s political comeback in the country was received with strong panic and mixed reactions to Zimbabwean’s political sphere. Again she insisted that Zimbabweans would still vote Mugabe even after his death.
Grace is seen as a possible successor to her ailing husband and is well known for her fiery speeches and verbal attacks on her husband’s opponents.
While addressing Zanu PF supporters at St John’s Primary School in Buhera, southeast of the capital Harare, recently, she shocked the crowd when she said that even if a dead Robert Mugabe’s corpse is put on the ballot paper, people will still vote for him and he will win.
She said: “One day when God decides that Mugabe dies, we will have his corpse appear as a candidate on the ballot paper. You will see people voting for Mugabe as a corpse. I am seriously telling you, just to show people how people love their president.”
President Robert Mugabe turns 93 on Tuesday, with a celebration party planned for next Saturday. He has been in power since 1980 and in December, the ZANU PF confirmed him as its candidate for the next presidential election expected in mid2018, when he will be 94.
Mugabe rose to lead the Zimbabwe African National Union movement and was one of the key negotiators in the 1979 Lancaster House Agreement, which led to the creation of a fully democratic Zimbabwe.
His leadership has been widely criticized for plunging the promising country into all-around stagnancy and for encouraging the takeovers of white-owned commercial farms, which subsequently led to an economic collapse and runaway inflation. Mugabe has made his point.
But the big question is, will his reaction deter Malema from making further comments about Mugabe’s leadership style and duration?