Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s deafening silence after weekend elections has raised increasing speculation about the fate of a strongman who has never previously found himself lost for words.
After a bruising campaign for the presidency in which he faced the toughest fight for his political survival, Mugabe declared on the polling day he was ready to romp to another victory to win a sixth uninterrupted term.
”This time around, like the last time, very good. I rate them in the same way, that we will succeed and we will conquer,” he said responding to a question about his prospects of victory soon after casting his ballot.
But it took five days after polling for Mugabe to make only the briefest of public appearances and Thursday’s clip on state television only showed him meeting with African Union monitors rather than any words from the president.
There have been widespread foreign media reports that he has met security chiefs to work out an exit strategy following indications that he may have lost to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai who Mugabe said would ”never, ever rule this country”.
Rumours have also been swirling around about him possibly preparing to depart for a foreign country where he will live out his twilight years in exile.
Former Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad, who has been one of Mugabe’s closest allies over the years, told reporters in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday that ”if he wants to come here, the [Malaysian] government should welcome him.”
”If he has lost, he has to accept the decision of the people, that is the best thing he can do,” he added.
‘Alive and kicking’
But deputy information minister Bright Matonga denied that Mugabe was in any mood for surrender, even though his party has already lost control of Parliament.
”He is very much alive and kicking and is anxiously awaiting the results as well,” Matonga said.
Matonga said the ruling party was preparing for a presidential election run-off and that Mugabe would win.
Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba dismissed the rumours as ”all lies”.
”I was with him this afternoon. He’s okay, he’s fine.”
However a former member of the security forces confirmed that Mugabe had still to work out how to deal with the outcome of Saturday’s vote, with even state media acknowledging that he failed to win outright and at best may have to face a re-run.
”He has been having meetings with his party confidantes and the army top brass to try and work out a way to have a re-run,” said the source.
”He thinks it would be embarrassing to lose to Tsvangirai so he is hoping to win after a run-off.”
On Thursday a smiling Mugabe made a brief appearance on state television after a meeting at State House with the African Union election observer mission led by former Sierra Leone president Ahmad Tejah Kabbah.
”He looked very relaxed,” Kabbah said responding to a question from reporters about Mugabe’s body language during their meeting.
Usually ready to tackle his opponents head-on, Mugabe has not responded to a declaration by the MDC that its leader Morgan Tsvagirai had won the presidential election before the official results were announced.
In the campaign, Mugabe was characteristically defiant, denouncing Tsvangirai as a ”puppet” of the former colonial power Britain while his former finance minister Simba Makoni was branded a ”prostitute” and ”frog” for daring to take him on at the polls.
The delay in announcing the presidential result has fuelled suspicions that the 84-year-old leader was seeking to tamper with the results and cling to the seat he has held since Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain in 1980.
‘Mugabe, the future is very bleak’
Meanwhile, Zimbabweans who have fled to South Africa to escape economic misery and political persecution are hopeful they might be about to see the back of Mugabe at last.
”I am happy because I heard that the opposition won. But I’m afraid Mugabe will find another trick to stay in power,” said 29-year-old Admire Gwadzoayi.
”The old man killed a lot of people and he wants to cover up many corrupted things,” speculated a young worker, who came to Johannesburg in November and has since survived by doing odd jobs.
Along with thousands of his compatriots with nowhere else to go, Gwadzoayi beds down at night in the Central Methodist Church hall, in the heart of downtown Johannesburg.
”There is a mix of cynicism and excitement among the people here. Some don’t believe it is happening and fear some trick from Mugabe,” said Bishop Paul Verryn.
His sermon on Wednesday night was topical: ”Whatever the results, you must behave like one nation.”
One of the crowd who gathered for the mass, 22-year-old Owen Muchanyu, said he has been praying for Tsvangirai to become president in place of Mugabe.
”Maybe with him, Zimbabwe will change. With Mugabe, the future is very bleak,” said the former teacher, who decided to leave two months ago in order to escape intimidation by Zanu-PF officials towards public-sector workers.
”Since I was a teacher, I was contrived to support the ruling party, but I couldn’t do that, I am on the opposition side.” – AFP