Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Thursday accused potential successors of wishing him dead and told supporters to unite against foreign enemies he said wanted to destroy the southern African nation.
Africa’s oldest leader at 92 years, Mugabe has held power since independence from Britain in 1980 and said his heir must be chosen democratically, adding his wife, Grace, will not automatically inherit the presidency.
Mugabe told a meeting of about 10,000 veterans of Zimbabwe’s 1970s independence war that his frequent trips to Malaysia and Singapore had fed newspaper reports that he was ill and sometimes dying, stoking succession fights in the ruling ZANU-PF.
“You then see a stampede now, they will be saying the president is dying. I am not dying, shame on you,” Mugabe said.
“I am there at the mercy of the people. If the people say ‘no, go’, I go. But if the people say ‘no, we still want you’, I stay on,” said Mugabe at a sports centre in the capital, Harare.
Thursday’s meeting came at a time of high tension in ZANU-PF as party officials position themselves for a post-Mugabe era.
Local media had reported the meeting could split ZANU-PF, especially after Mugabe said last month the veterans had indicated they wanted him to retire.
Instead, war veterans pledged their loyalty to Mugabe, but also presented a list of grievances and demands for top positions in government and state-owned firms, diplomatic posts, and at least one-fifth of all farmland and mining concessions.
The veterans, 30,000 in total, also want their monthly allowances increased from $260.
But Mugabe said the government would only meet such demands if it had the resources.
The last time Mugabe caved into demands from war veterans was in November 1997, when the Zimbabwean dollar crashed by 72 percent after the government announced unbudgeted allowances for veterans.
That day became known as “Black Friday”.
Mugabe has agreed to major reforms, such as compensation for evicted white farmers and a big reduction in public sector wages in a bid to woo back international lenders and to have part of its $8bn in foreign debt canceled.
Mugabe said Zimbabwe’s poor record with debtors was holding back potential funding from China, Japan, and India.
“We have a disease in Zimbabwe where we just want to receive and forget that debts are supposed to be repaid. It’s a very bad culture,” said Mugabe in a monologue that lasted 90 minutes.