Former Malawian strongman Kamuzu Banda tripped and fell at the then Sheraton Harare in the early 1990s. One newspaper published the photograph, but the Malawian embassy complained and with the aid of Zimbabwean security services the picture was obliterated.
It seems there isn’t a trace of it.
The reason for the destruction of the picture was simple: It would destroy Banda’s image of invincibility back home. Banda was in his early 90s when he took the stumble, but back home he was still viewed as a demigod.
His stranglehold on his people was mythical. He was the founding father of the country who defeated colonialism through “guerilla warfare” spearheaded by swarms of bees. To date many people in Malawi and even in Zimbabwe, believe in Banda’s magical powers and, can on pain of death, swear he actually used bees to fight the British.
He had ruled his country for a long time, that is, since independence in 1966; he finally relinquished power in 1994. It had been a long reign characterised by immeasurable repression; he threw his enemies into the Shire River to be devoured by crocodiles. His country during his rule became about the poorest in the world; it still is. Millions of his people had gone into exile where they became the laughing stock of the world.
Needless to say the swirl of opposition had strengthened at the time he fell, but he had become more despotic and thousands of locals were languishing in jail for standing up against him. He went on to live for another five years and died when he was a year short of a hundred years old in 1997.
Malawians celebrated his fall at the Sheraton in hushed words; he was immensely feared all over the world. A few years previously a Malawian exile in Zimbabwe had been “hit” by his agents in the streets of Harare.
There was little social media during the days of Kamuzu, so the extent of the response to his fall was very difficult to measure.
What does the apparent euphoric celebration of President Robert Mugabe’s fall on Wednesday indicate? It obviously doesn’t mean his demise; he can as well live to nearly a hundred years! Many people may say the social media is not representative of the country’s populace, but with cheap instant messaging apps such as WhatsApp and the way the images circulated together with the snide remarks, the powers-that-be may have to sit up and assess the damage.
The irony that the President took a fall at the very time he was celebrating his greatest moment — the assumption of the African Union leadership together with that of the Sadc one and also the apparent “defeat” of the European Union which had just announced the relaxation of sanctions targeted against him — should have been a great embarrassment on him.
Whatever the case may be, President Mugabe cannot continue to think he is still the sprightly guerilla leader he used to be.
He might have to think more seriously about slowing down. And, what is so wrong, at this juncture, about passing the baton? He has in a way conquered the world, his star can now only begin to fade much more rapidly.