At least one man is being prosecuted in Zimbabwe after calling for an end to dictator Robert Mugabe’s regime, following an embarrassing stumble in India in which Indian head of state Narendra Modi had to help the 91-year-old walk toward him.
Mugabe, visiting India along with a large number of other African leaders last week for the India-Africa Forum Summit, stumbled publicly as he attempted to walk towards Modi, almost falling. The video of the incident has become a social media sensation, with many mocking the older leader.
London’s New Zimbabwe newspaper notes that Mugabe had opted to wear “flat-soled moccasins” to prevent any such incidents, as his legs have been growing swollen and weak.
While the video has triggered a number of scathing comments the world over, at least one man’s dismissive remark towards Mugabe’s age has landed him in court. Tendai Musonza, a former public official for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T), was arraigned on Saturday on charges of “undermining the office of the president” due to remarks he reportedly made in a barber shop. Musonza allegedly confronted a Mugabe supporter wearing the head of state’s face on his shirt, calling for change. “You people, we cannot continue to be ruled by a 91-year-old man that continues to fall on his own,” he said.
While Musonza’s remarks were allegedly shouted, a number of public officials are making a similar case for Zimbabwe to transition into a new government and let Mugabe retire. “President Mugabe’s physical and mental mishaps in the past one year have proven beyond doubt that he is no longer fit to continue in office. Ninety-one years is no joke. Even Zanu PF cannot come up with any tricks to reverse it,” said MDC spokesperson Kurauone Chihwayi, referring to the ruling Zanu PF political party.
MDC-T spokesman Obert Gutu echoed this sentiment, but made sure to cushion his call for Mugabe to step down in reverence for the dictator. “In our African culture, we are taught to respect our elders. So we can never celebrate whenever an elderly person does something embarrassing, particularly in public,” he said, adding, “We reiterate our call that the President should proceed to step down.”
The Mugabe regime has reacted to the incident by issuing a statement calling Mugabe “heroic” for visiting India and calling the fall itself “a very minor incident.”
In addition to stumbling publicly, Mugabe made himself conspicuous by refusing to wear the traditional Indian garb that the Indian government had requested African leaders wear for a group photo. The Indian government even requested African leaders send their clothing measurements to tailor the outfits for the photo. Mugabe positioned himself front and center in the photo, wearing a Western-style gray suit.
Mugabe has fallen in public before. In February, the head of state fell down a small set of stairs at Harare International Airport. The Zimbabwean government denied the incident occurred, reporting in state media that Mugabe “managed to break the fall.” Video of the incident traveled online faster than the government’s denial that it ever happened:
Earlier this year, Mugabe also accidentally delivered the wrong speech before his legislature, triggering rumors of increased senility.
Mugabe remains a feared leader, however, as the arrest of Musonza indicates. In addition to his arrest, at least five opposition legislators told reporters this week that they have received death threats from unknown phone numbers. Some of these were members who had booed Mugabe when he delivered the wrong speech before them earlier this year. One of these legislators, Tafara-Mabvuku MDC-T legislator James Maridadi, also received an anonymous envelope with a bullet in it. Police have refused to comment on whether they are investigating the incident.
Mugabe first made a name for himself internationally in the 1980s as the head of Operation Gukurahundi, a genocide operation that killed more than 20,000 Ndebele tribal members. Many believe he explicitly ordered the mass killing of the Ndebele minority.