A scathing U.N. report last week condemned the demolition of slums across Zimbabwe and called for criminal prosecutions of those responsible. But the report stayed silent on the next obvious question: Who are they?
The demolitions are now in their third month, and the community of Porta Farm in suburban Harare, which was first destroyed in June, was attacked again in recent days. But no senior official has taken responsibility, and President Robert Mugabe, while defending the campaign, has never said publicly that it was his idea.
As a result, debate has intensified in Zimbabwe over whether Mugabe, at 81, still wields total control over the national government and whether his once-legendary political savvy has begun to dim after 25 years in power.
"We have a president who has lost it," said Mugabe's former information minister, Jonathan Moyo, who was fired in February but has reemerged as an independent member of parliament and leading critic of the government. "I do not accept that he is really the one who ordered that. It is the powers around him."
Moyo's contention was echoed by Pearson Mbalekwa, a former legislator who resigned from the ruling party this month to protest the slum demolitions.
"The pace at which he appreciates things, the way he perceives things, has really changed drastically," Mbalekwa said in a recent interview in Harare. "This is not the Robert Mugabe we knew. It's a human inevitability. When you reach that age, you lose touch with what is happening."
Other critics contend that only Mugabe could have orchestrated such a massive, countrywide effort. Since May 19, an estimated 700,000 people have been made homeless or have lost their jobs as police stormed through poor neighborhoods, destroying homes and informal markets.
"He is thoroughly in control," said John Makumbe, a political commentator at the University of Zimbabwe.
Mugabe has praised the demolition campaign as necessary, saying in the May 28 edition of a government-owned newspaper, "Our cities and towns . . . had become havens for illicit and criminal practices and activities that just could not be allowed to go on."
Officials have periodically asserted that the program was about to end, but reports of demolitions continued after the U.N. report was released Friday. Several thousand residents of Porta Farm who were beginning to rebuild their homes faced new evictions Saturday and Tuesday, according to news reports.
On Thursday, police also raided churches that were sheltering victims of the campaign in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second-largest city.
Makumbe, speaking from Harare, said that when ruling party members complained about the demolition campaigns, they were told Mugabe had ordered them personally and would tolerate no criticism.
But while he reiterated the perception that the president remained in control, Makumbe also acknowledged that the growing international condemnation of Zimbabwe pointed up Mugabe's deterioration. The president is currently in China seeking aid, but Makumbe said aides in the his office described him as often napping at his desk.
"He has run out of steam," Makumbe said. "He is old. He is essentially senile. He sleeps most of the time."
The U.N. report, by Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka of Tanzania, says the demolitions violate international law and might amount to a crime against humanity. It urges prosecution in relation to several deaths attributed to the campaign. Yet it is quiet on what role, if any, Mugabe might have played in conceiving, directing or supporting the effort.
"It appears that there was no collective decision-making with respect to both the conception and implementation," the report says. "Evidence suggests it was based on improper advice by a few architects of the operation."
Elsewhere, the report mentions "over-zealous officials, each with their own agendas." It notes that two officials, the Reserve Bank governor and the minister for the capital area, gave speeches this spring citing the need to crack down on dirty streets and illegal trading.
The report also recalls Mugabe's role as a liberation hero in Zimbabwe in the 1970s and ranks him with South Africa's Nelson Mandela in "an exclusive club" of African leaders renowned for fighting racism and colonialism on the continent.
But Mbalekwa, who first met Mugabe in the mid-1980s and soon after joined his feared secret police, said the old Mugabe was long gone.
"Maybe he has been there a little too long, maybe he is no longer listening to the wishes of the people," Mbalekwa said. "He is no longer the Robert Mugabe of yesteryear, that energetic man . . . who was an inspiration to everyone, that man whose traits were admired across the breadth and length of Africa."
The president "is too old, and his mortality is beckoning," Moyo said. He "is no longer in total control of things, not even of himself."