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Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo
Mugabe speaking in parliament.

Zimbabwe’s 91-year-old president delivered the wrong speech to parliament

By Lily Kuo

Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s aging president, read out the wrong speech at the opening of parliament today (Sept. 15).

Mugabe, 91, delivered the same 25-minute State of the Union address that he gave last month before officials realized the mistake. “The mix-up happened in his secretarial office resulting in a situation where… the president delivered the wrong speech,” his spokesman George Charamba told The Herald, a government-owned daily.

The country’s higher education minister Jonathan Moyo tried to justify the mistake, citing the speech’s continued relevance, as well as other state leaders who have had rhetorical slip ups.

Still, the moment is likely to give fodder to Mugabe’s critics. In power since the 1980s, he is the oldest African leader. Several journalists have suggested that Mugabe may no longer be fit to lead his country. Today’s mistake, as lawyer and political blogger Alex Magaisa points out, stands in sharp contrast with a younger Mugabe who interrupted his own address in 2011 to demand that his aides bring him the correct remarks.

Worse still is the fact that Mugabe’s supporters failed to noticed that they were hearing the same speech they listened to three weeks ago. One minister of parliament, Joseph Chinotimba, even described the speech as “very fantastic.”

Members of the ruling Zanu-PF party nodded and applauded at intervals throughout the speech, according to local media. Magaisa writes, ”That is a sad reflection of the mediocrity of the majority party in Parliament. It is like a large group of people who, responding to the pull of sycophancy, will cheer everything that the leader says, without the critical ear.”

Fortunately for Mugabe, much of the public did not witness the event. Zimbabwe’s state broadcaster chose not to air the address after members of the opposition party threatened to heckle the president during the event. Presidential spokesman Charamba said that the correct speech was read later on at a hotel in Harare.