Former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe: Still stealing the limelight. Picture: AFP/Jekesai Njikizana
Former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe: Still stealing the limelight. Picture: AFP/Jekesai Njikizana

It was the first time in the history of independent Zimbabwe that Robert Gabriel Mugabe’s face was not on the ballot paper.

But the aged former leader still managed to steal the limelight in Zimbabwe’s election this week.

On the eve of the election he held a surprise media conference where he repeated that his removal from office was by military force. "Our neighbours are fooled into believing that it was not a coup d’état. Nonsense, it was a coup d’état. We used to say politics directs the gun but now it is the gun directing politics."

Mugabe’s comments on his removal went unremarked as there are few inside or outside Zimbabwe who disagree that it was time for him to go, one way or another.

What really got the world’s attention was Mugabe’s announcement that he was turning his back on Zanu-PF, the liberation movement which he led in exile and then in power for 27 years.

"I can’t vote for Zanu-PF. I can’t vote for a party or those in power who have brought me to this state. So it’s the MDC, Mai Mujuru, [Thokozani] Khupe and 22 others. I have said the two women don’t seem to offer very much, so what is there? I think it is just [Nelson] Chamisa."

And there it was. Robert Mugabe, firebrand Zanu-PF vanguardist would do the unthinkable and vote for the leader of the opposition MDC.

What followed was uproar.

So serious was Mugabe’s announcement that Emmerson Mnangagwa, who deposed Mugabe in the coup/reshuffle/debating society meeting, was so incensed that he used the most brutal instrument available to an electioneering politician — Facebook.

In a video issued on the social media platform, he said: "Chamisa has forged a deal with Mugabe.

"We can no longer believe that his intentions are to transform Zimbabwe and rebuild our nation.

"The choice is clear. You either vote for Mugabe under the guise of Chamisa or you vote for a new Zimbabwe under my leadership."

For his part, Chamisa responded: "There’s this misconception — and I must clear it once and for all — there is no room for Grace Mugabe in my cabinet. This is desperation by Zanu-PF who have their own issues with the Mugabes. I have nothing to do with what Mugabe would want to say as a voter, he’s a citizen."

And so, one last time, Mugabe was in the thick of an election controversy.