HARARE – As he edges closer to 91, many Zimbabweans question the ability of President Robert Mugabe to meet the obligations of his office – let alone the regional and African leadership roles awaiting him in 2015.
“I wonder why those in the ruling Zanu-PF continue to drag a 90-year-old man into the presidential office,” Jacob Mafume, spokesman for the splinter MDC party, dubbed “The Renewal Team,” told The Anadolu Agency.
He argued that pictures of the first family celebrating Christmas and New Year in the Far East showed a frailer-than-usual Mugabe.
“From the pictures it would appear that he no longer looks good at [official] ceremonies,” said Mafume.
“That’s the reason why society created old people’s homes; State House is not an old people’s home,” he said, referring to the seat of Zimbabwe’s presidency.
Mugabe took, as is customary each year, a one-month vacation in the Far East, where he and his family celebrated the holiday season.
Mugabe’s health has been a closely guarded secret since he came to power in 1980 following independence from Britain.
Following media reports that he was on his deathbed in the Far East, the government was forced to counter the claims.
Mugabe spokesman George Charamba admitted that the aging leader was suffering from a cataract – but not prostate cancer, as was reported.
He has visited Singapore at least three times a year since 2012 for what his office claims are regular medical checkups.
“Can we really keep him as the president at that age?” political analyst Obert Ncube asked. “Are there no other capable individuals in his party who can lead us?”
He went on: “Is keeping him as the president doing any good to the country?”
The Zimbabwean leader, who turns 91 in February, will likely face a huge workload in 2015.
Domestically, the country faces a crumbling economy, with civil servants in December threatening to down their tools over unpaid annual bonuses.
The ruling Zanu-PF, meanwhile, has faced a factionalism crisis since the sacking of former Vice-President Joyce Mujuru and 15 ministers over allegations that they had plotted a coup.
The Zimbabwean leader must also deal with a recent controversy involving his wife, Grace.
A Harare court recently suspended the eviction of nearly 200 families in Mazowe village, some 66km north of the capital, to make way for the establishment of a game park, allegedly sponsored by the first lady.
Regionally, Mugabe will attend the African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa on January 30 and 31, where he will assume the pan-African body’s presidency amid fears of unrest in the Sahel region; spiraling Boko Haram violence in Nigeria; and frequent attacks by the Al-Shabaab group in Somalia and Kenya.
As AU chair, Mugabe will also be expected to lead the continent’s efforts to contain the deadly Ebola virus, which has killed more than 5,000 people in West Africa alone.
This will be in addition to his responsibilities as rotating chair of the 15-member Southern African Development Community (SADC).
But analysts in Harare say Mugabe’s age – and deteriorating health – may hinder his ability to carry out his duties.
“To expect him to deal with the SADC crisis and the AU is completely irrational; no right-thinking person believes that,” said Mafume.
He said it was an “open secret” that South Africa was handling the crisis in the SADC region while ignoring Mugabe.
Mugabe failed to rein in Namibia and South Africa at a SADC summit last summer, where the two states refused to sign a SADC trade protocol.
As current SADC chairman, Mugabe is also dealing with civil unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique and Lesotho.
“When he gets the AU chairmanship, it will be an entirely ceremonial role,” Mafume said.
Copyright © 2015 Anadolu Agency