The Cable

How Not to Handle Criticism, Brought to You By Robert Mugabe

The Zimbabwean dictator’s very public, very amusing fallout with a former political ally in South Africa.

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Robert Mugabe, everyone’s favorite Zimbabwean geriatric dictator, doesn’t have many friends left in the world. After over 30 years in power, he’s turned Zimbabwe into an international pariah — a country saddled with corruption, economic woes, and human rights abuses. One might think, then, that he would be a bit more respectful to the friends he has left, even if their support wanes.

But one would be wrong. Mugabe is currently embroiled in a colorful war of words with former political supporters in neighboring South Africa.

It started on Monday, when Julius Malema, the leader of South Africa’s radical socialist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) political party, called for Mugabe to step down. “We say this out of love, not because we hate him. We celebrate Mugabe, we celebrate what he has done. But, grandpa, it’s enough,” Malema said. “You must let go and let others continue with that legacy,” he added, encouraging members of Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party to take the reins of the country from its 92-year-old ruler.

Mugabe’s government didn’t take that too well. And so it released a press statement that is equal parts scathing and, perhaps unintentionally, entertaining. “Julius Malema shines as a loud-mouthed ‘Gucci’ revolutionary who acquired the infamy of deserting and betraying politics of liberation,” Mugabe’s Minister of Information Christopher Mushowe said in a statement released Tuesday.

“He is nothing more than a shrunken, talkative joke….what an embarrassment, what miserly little grasp of continental politics he exhibits in the process!” he added.

The EFF, a fringe socialist party, was a longtime supporter of Mugabe for standing up to what Malema calls “imperialist puppets” (read: Western governments and any leaders who work with them). But even friends forever can be fickle, and the EFF started to distance itself from the nonagenarian dictator in recent months as his health slipped. But Mugabe’s party, undeterred, is stubbornly backing him for Zimbabwe’s 2018 elections (despite Mugabe’s poor health and penchant for falling asleep in meetings) and arresting anyone who might predict his death.

On Tuesday, the EFF hit back with a press statement of its own. “What is revolutionary about being led by a person in old age; who sleeps all the time in meetings, can no longer even hold a pen or write half a page?” the EFF asked. “Insistence that President Mugabe must lead to the grave is a sign that ZANU-PF is drowning in cowardice,” it added.

And, because things weren’t dramatic enough, Malema apparently now has a new friend in Stanley Goreraza, Mugabe’s wife’s ex-husband. “Hypocrites are usually cowards and cowards are always liars who don’t mean what they say and say what they don’t mean. There is absolutely no defense for putting a 93 year old man to the punitive job of President,” Goreraza said (though Mugabe is actually 92).

So, to recap: Mugabe’s longtime friend in South Africa called on him to step down, Mugabe’s minister of information called him a joke, his now-ex friend made fun of him for falling asleep, and then his wife’s ex-husband joined in to belatedly drop the proverbial mic.

If only all petty political spats brought with them such sick burns.

Photo credit: JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. @robbiegramer

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