Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwe president and recently elected chairman of the African Union (A.U.), was in Harare on Wednesday to give a speech. As he walked down from the podium, he appeared to trip and fall. It was caught on film.
For a 90-year-old man, a trip is understandable. What's less easy to understand is what happened next: Zimbabwe's government issued a denial.
‘’Nobody has shown any evidence of the president having fallen down because that did not happen," Information Minister Jonathan Moyo told the state-owned Zimbabwe Herald, before offering a more obtuse explanation. "The hump on which the president tripped was formed by two pieces of the carpet which apparently had not been laid out properly where they joined. And to be honest with you, even Jesus, let alone you, would have also tripped in that kind of situation."
"In the circumstances, there’s really nothing to write home about the nonsensical celebrations by malcontents who are imagining a fall that never was since it was actually broken by the president himself,” Moyo said.
The information minister's comments formed part of a broader media response. While international media such as the Associated Press caught it on film, local photographers are claiming that they were forced to delete their pictures of the fall by Mugabe's security personnel. For many Twitter users, the response to the fall seemed ridiculous: And thus, a meme was born: #MugabeFalls.
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The official concern over the public perception of Mugabe's health is nothing new. The Zimbabwean strongman will be 91 in February and has led his country for almost 35 years, a period during which he has slowly become an international pariah.
Exactly what happens after he leaves office isn't clear, and reports about his health are treated like state secrets by the Zimbabwean government. On his 90th birthday, for example, a spokesman had to deny reports that his frequent trips to Singapore were due to treatment for undisclosed colon cancer.
Asked how he was on Thursday, Mugabe himself dismissed the concern. "I am okay, it was just a slip," he said, according to the Zimbabwe Herald.