It was an unusual homecoming. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, supported on the arm of his wife Grace, strolling across the tarmac of Harare airport last Thursday, spitting venom at the world’s media – which an aide had said was “driving an imperialist agenda” – after his 10th trip in 16 months to
Singapore for cancer treatment.

Mugabe, 88, was supposed to have returned on Monday, but then said he would not be back until at least Thursday, triggering excited rumours in Harare.

The news editor of the Zimbabwe Mail was so overcome that his paper led with a story Mugabe was dead. He has been sacked. No doubt this frenzied speculation – and the effect it has within Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF party – led to a further change of plan, with the President hurrying home much earlier.

The latest private opinion polls show Mugabe’s support down to just 5 per cent in the towns and 15 per cent in the countryside.

Support for Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, is at 65 per cent.

Once Mugabe’s Zanu-PF loses power, the remnants are likely to rapidlycollapse and there will be wholesale regime change, with a far more pro-Western government under Tsvangirai that could thrive on foreign aid and investment. Until last year, Mugabe’s two rivals for the succession had been Emmerson Mnangagwa, the former head of the secret police who was responsible for the thousands of deaths in Matabeleland, and former guerilla leader Solomon Mujuru.

However, Mujuru and his mistress were burnt to death in a mysterious fire last August. Many believe Mugabe has designated Mnangagwa, known as “Crocodile”, as his successor.

Mugabe has been desperately pressing for an early election so he can run for a final time as President – he is certainly the best candidate Zanu-PF has, although he has had to rely on violence and intimidation to win the previous two times.

However, Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s President who heads the Southern African Development Community, has shown surprising backbone in holding Mugabe to his promise of constitutional reform, insisting that no election can be held till those reforms are in place. That means no election until next year -
and creating a nation of presidential health-watchers. Mugabe was shocked by the fall of ally Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and insists there is a NATO plot to overthrow him. Last month, several Zimbabweans facing charges of treason escaped with fines and community service for screening videos of the Arab Spring.

While Mugabe has shown skill and cunning in prolonging his mastery, he has now reached a point where his exits are blocked. The two certainties are death and taxes – Mugabe has dodged taxes, but there are limits to what even he can manage.

Source: The Sunday Times