#Zimbabwe President Mugabe speech interrupted: “President, we are suffering!”
By: Brezhnev Malaba
In the broadcast, which was packaged as a news item although it was really free advertising, the party invited its members to “turn out in their thousands to welcome the president” at Harare International Airport.
On cue, party members flocked the airport on Saturday and braved the blazing sun as they sat patiently on the scorching pavement while waiting for Mugabe. Soon after his chartered Air Zimbabwe jet touched down he alighted and took to the podium to address the gathered crowd.
President Mugabe, in the manner of a former teacher, commenced a long lecture on matters of history. He held forth, explaining to the crowd how Germany sparked World War One and Two and how Japan eventually got nuked by the Americans in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
About an hour into Mugabe’s address, a woman in the crowd suddenly shouted in the dominant Shona language: “President, we are suffering!”
Mugabe paused a few seconds – but for a moment it seemed he had been rendered speechless for eternity. The daring woman had visibly thrown Mugabe off kilter. Gathering himself, he asked the woman: “You are suffering from what?”
The woman wasted no time, responding: “We are suffering from hunger.”
It was an unprecedented interjection from the Zanu-PF povo, the impoverished masses who always pitch up to welcome the veteran leader from his countless foreign jaunts. In an airport teeming with police, soldiers, intelligence operatives and youth marshals, a woman had mustered the courage to tell Mugabe an unpalatable home truth – and in his face.
Mugabe’s tired eyes scanned the crowd but he did not seem to locate her. Finally, the president replied: “Put your grievances in writing, and we will look into them.”
If the hungry woman expected Mugabe to bring tidings of salvation from the Land of the Rising Sun, she would have been disappointed to hear that the president returned with just $5 million for road construction and a slew of pledges that may take long to be honoured by Tokyo.
As Mugabe’s bombproof Mercedes-Benz S600 Pullman limousine left the irport, Zanu-PF members chatted excitedly about the brave woman who had interrupted the dear leader’s speech to convey a vital message to Zimbabwe’s ruling elite.
Hunger stalks the land. The latest food assessment report from the government shows that 4 million Zimbabweans face starvation due to a drought caused by the El Niño phenomenon. This is 30 percent of the entire population.
The UN says Zimbabwe’s “worst level of malnutrition in more than 15 years” has left more than 33 000 children suffering from “severe acute malnutrition” and in urgent need of treatment. The organisation has appealed for millions of dollars from the international community “to prevent this crisis from spiralling out of control”.
Aid agencies say although El Niño has worsened food insecurity in the country, it is chronic poverty caused by economic collapse that has left millions in peril.
Significantly, the woman’s dramatic interruption of Mugabe’s speech occurred when the Zimbabwean leader was berating war veterans for what he termed senseless demands for favourable treatment within Zanu-PF.
A few seconds before the woman shouted the hunger grievance, Mugabe had thundered: “War veterans are an association affiliated to Zanu-PF. They cannot make special demands. Let’s not forget that all of us are war veterans. I also went to war. We will never allow anyone to demand special treatment.”
After months of political turmoil triggered by Mugabe’s unresolved succession, the Zimbabwean leader agreed to meet the war veterans who accuse him of seeking to personalise Zanu-PF and creating a dynasty.
When veterans of Zimbabwe’s 1970s liberation war tried to meet in Harare in February to discuss the crisis, police unleashed water cannon and teargas on the comrades, sending them scampering to safety. Tempers were frayed and lifelong alliances rattled.
Mugabe says he is not retiring anytime soon and last week told Japanese journalists that he is in fact seeking re-election in the 2018 national elections. He would be 94 when he stands and 99 at the end of the term.