PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe came within a whisker of going through another script of a wrong speech at the just-ended Zanu PF conference in Victoria Falls over the weekend, before his alert lieutenants, led by Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, immediately came to his rescue.
By the time Mnangagwa and First Lady Grace Mugabe came to his rescue, the veteran politician had already read out the first paragraph of the wrong copy and critically, he seemed to have noticed the mistake unlike the September incident at Parliament.
The debacle, coming less than three months after Mugabe made global headlines by reading a wrong script in Parliament on September 15, could have caused further embarrassment to his party, which has already endorsed him as its presidential candidate for the 2018 election. Mugabe turns 92 on February 21.
It turned out Mugabe had been supplied with a copy of the speech he had read at the party’s central committee meeting two days earlier.
He noticed the blip 30 seconds after ploughing into the first paragraph of the wrong speech and grunted: “This is badly put,” before Mnangagwa went into an animated brief conversation with Grace.
In the furore that ensued, Information minister Chris Mushohwe immediately sent a text message to Presidential spokesperson George Charamba, demanding a correct speech, which the latter delivered a few minutes later.
Mushohwe and Charamba engaged in a brief conversation as Mugabe continued, but the damage had been done.
“The media is tweeting it live you can follow,” Charamba whispered to Mushohwe.
Mnangagwa, meanwhile, had to shift chairs and briefly sit in Mugabe’s place during a short, but animated chat with Grace, following which he summoned one of Mugabe’s close aides and supplied him with the correct version.
Mugabe ignored the supplied copy and instead, went speaking off-the-cuff about issues that had no link to his prepared speech before tabling the central committee report for adoption by conference.
Drama had started earlier, as staff set up the top table and there seemed to be disagreements over the sitting arrangement, particularly the setting of the chairs that were to be used by Mnangagwa and his counterpart Phelekezela Mphoko.
Party commissar Saviour Kasukuwere seemed intent on imposing some arrangement, before Charamba tried to resolve the differences, amid wild and angry gestures. Charamba left briefly and returned with Mugabe’s chief of protocol, Munyaradzi Kajese, in tow.
Kajese, reportedly the foul guy in the September speech blunder, seemed to “lay down the law” and everything seemed in order.
Charamba had set the documentation at the podium that was to be used by Mugabe and as usual, another podium that was to be used by other speakers had also been set at the extreme end, which, however, seemed to have been “set the wrong way”.
On September 15 while officially opening the second session of the 8th Parliament of Zimbabwe, Mugabe, for 25 minutes, embarrassingly read his State of the Nation Address he had presented in late August without realising it.
Mnangagwa was later to be assigned, as leader of the House, to re-convene the legislature to withdraw the “wrong speech” and replace it with the correct version, a move that included “deleting” the proceedings of the day that experts said had left Parliament in limbo.
There were accusations and counter-accusations among officials, as the finger-pointing went into overdrive.
The ensuing fall-out, it was to emerge, was epitomised by the social media platform WhatsApp clash between Charamba and War Veterans minister Christopher Mutsvangwa.
There were calls from the opposition for Mugabe to either quit or be impeached, but all this came to naught.
Hawks in Mugabe’s administration, split between two distinct factions, angling to take over from the former guerrilla leader, tried to milk the event to the last drop and smear each other.
However, the latest blip seemed to have gone largely unnoticed. Mugabe’s prepared speech was not handed out to journalists as is the norm, but the State media reported that he had lashed out at his lieutenants for feeding “the private Press” with internal party matters.
“They do not attend our politburo. The private Press are not members of the central committee. I don’t recall appointing any one from their number as my Minister of Government. They do not sit in my Cabinet, yet all matters placed before all these key organs of the party and government find their way to the private press newsrooms,” an angry Mugabe reportedly said.