PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is “out of it about 75 percent of the time”, his wife, Grace, told Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor Gideon Gono, according to leaked United States embassy cables.
With a strong hint that Mugabe, 87, was now unable to physically cope, his wife is alleged to have confided in Gono that she wanted him to quit politics.
Gono revealed Grace’s anxiety to the former US ambassador Christopher Dell during a private meeting held in his spacious 22nd floor office at the Reserve Bank HQ in February 2006, according to a "confidential" cable released by WikiLeaks last Friday.
“The Governor confided that Mugabe appeared to be deteriorating mentally and losing his capacity to balance factional interests,” Dell wrote in his report following the meeting.
“He (Gono) said that Mugabe's wife had confided to him that the President was ‘out of it’ about 75 percent of the time and she wanted him to step down.”
Gono strongly denied the claims on Monday, telling New Zimbabwe.com: “These claims are the rogue ambassadors’ opinions, the product of their fictional minds or whatever kind of grass they were smoking.
“By attempting to quote me on awkward topics, these guys were trying to authenticate their pregathered, preconceived notions about a particular matter to add credibility to their imaginations.”
President Mugabe turned 87 in February and his wife’s concerns, if true, would suggest his advanced age and reported ill health were beginning to take their toll.
In other diplomatic cables seen by New Zimbabwe.com, Botswana President Ian Khama told American officials Mugabe had dozed through a SADC meeting which discussed the formation of the country’s coalition government.
“President Khama told the US Chiefs of Mission that Mugabe started dozing off as the hours passed, head nodding and eyes half-closed. But according to Khama, Mugabe was always able to respond at the right moments, which Khama characterised as having ‘mastered the art of sleeping with one ear open’,” one cable said.
Meanwhile, Gono also told Dell he handed Mugabe his resignation on February 6, 2006, after being frustrated by the government’s “unwillingness to address deepening corruption, fiscal indiscipline and parastatal inefficiencies.”
Wrote Dell: “Gono disclosed that his frustrations led him to submit his resignation February 6 … He had spent much of the week meeting with Mugabe, the presidium, Didymus Mutasa and other cabinet officials, finally being persuaded just the morning of his meeting with the Ambassador to stay on.”
The RBZ chief claimed he was under constant political siege for boldly attacking high level corruption in the country.
“He (Gono) cast mining sector corruption as ‘out of this world’ and showed the Ambassador a confidential report on gold that implicated senior officials (unnamed) in siphoning off production sufficient to reduce official output from 22 tons in 2004 to 12 tons in 2005,” Dell wrote.
“(Gono) estimated that corruption in gold alone was costing at least US$250 million a year - enough to feed, fuel and medicate the nation for months.”
The RBZ chief is also said to have suggested that the country’s economic problems could help bring about much-needed change.
“Gono agreed that ongoing economic and political developments all served as foundation for a post-Mugabe dispensation that had yet to be worked out. He observed that economic distress impelled a perceived need for change but factional infighting was delaying the succession for which all were posturing,” Dell said.
Regarding possible key players in a post-Mugabe Zanu PF, Dell wrote: “Gono, speaking sotto voce, mentioned politburo member and ex-Finance Minister Simba Makoni and Party Chairman John Nkomo.
“On a scrap of paper he wrote down ‘Didymus Mutasa’ and ‘(Minister of Agriculture) Joseph Made’ as two players whom he understood could be allowed no place in a post-Mugabe government.
“Gono said he himself remained independent from party factions – ‘equally distrusted by all,’ he joked - but communicated with leaders from all factions in both parties. At the same time, he stressed that, as a rags-to-riches self-made man, he had the confidence to ‘walk away from it all’ if necessary.”