By Richard Chidza and Munesu Nyakudya*
President Robert Mugabe yesterday told thousands of children attending celebrations to mark the Day of the African Child in Harare that he is on his way out and wants his successors to do a better job.
Mugabe the only leader Zimbabwe has known since independence 36 years ago — has used all manner of tactics to cling to power, including alleged violence against political opponents and electoral fraud.
A few weeks ago, Mugabe (92), declared he wanted to stay on while First Lady Grace Mugabe told the recent Zanu PF million-man-march that “he will rule from the National Heroes Acre”.
Constitutionally, Mugabe can run for one more term, which will end in 2022. But officially opening the 24th Children’s Parliament yesterday, the veteran ruler admitted his days were numbered.
“Once upon a time, I was like you. But I am not like you anymore. I am on my way out,” he said.
“But when I look over my shoulder, I would want to see bold and courageous men. I want to look behind and say those coming will be better than me.”
“That is what we always fight to do. To be better than our parents, initially be like them but strive to be better.”
Meanwhile, children who spoke at the occasion painted horrifying images of what they go through in their daily lives, especially their rural counterparts.
This was after Youth minister Patrick Zhuwao had told Mugabe that his government’s policies showed a deep commitment to addressing the needs of young people.
“The policies of our government are addressing the various needs of our children,” he said.
The government was called upon to take the Child Parliament seriously and not treat it like “a Christmas Day”.
“The government should do something to help children in the rural areas,” he said.
“Some of them walk for as long as two hours to go to school. Children as young as Grade Zeros. They go to school without shoes in this cold,” lamented a child parliamentarian.
A representative of children living with disabilities weighed in.
“The government has to do something to minimise the subjects of those children with disabilities. Focus should be put on practical subjects that can enable children who are disabled to become innovative because nobody is willing to employ them,” he said.
Mugabe admitted that the scourge of rape was getting out of hand, threatening “inhuman treatment” to perpetrators.
“If it does not stop, we will be forced to use inhuman treatment to men who rape. It must stop and stop now,” Mugabe said.
Another child lawmaker said grinding poverty was forcing children into early marriages.