Zimbabweans now need honest discourse on suitability of aging presidency

Contrary to popular perception, age definitely aint just a number – to borrow an often-used American street lingo.

Tendai Ruben Mbofana


It can never be denied that, at nearly 49 years, I am no longer as sharp or astute as I was a couple of Christmases ago – and, a younger person may remember, understand and analyze issues much keener, and even proffer far more innovative solutions, than I possibly can.

Is it any wonder why our children become the home experts in solving all our tech problems, or always appear to possess an uncanny (sometimes irritating) ability in swiftly figuring out novel ingenious methods of dealing with things we have been repeatedly doing in the same old fashion for eons, or outperforming us in memory games?

Of course, we cannot overlook the fact that, age comes with its own beautiful perks, such as experience and, hopefully, wisdom and sober-mindedness – although, the jury is certainly still out on the latter, as we have witnessed older individuals, whose greying hair is in stark contrast to their childish and grossly immature approach to life.

Honestly, how else do we explain that old madhala (man) who cannot be passed by a dress, and not fall into a lustful trance – who, in spite of having a loving wife at home, still acts like a love-sick teenager, who finds it difficult to commit or have self-control?

Nonetheless, what I am getting at is this – it is a proven scientific fact that the human brain reaches full maturity at around the 25th birthday, and from there on, it goes on an unstoppable downward spiral, and by the time an individual reaches the 80s, let us be honest, the mind will no longer be firing on all cylinders.

As such, where do we draw the line between one possessing enough knowledge, understanding and wisdom to lead a huge enterprise as a country – and, being a mere seat-warmer, who is in a position of power more like a token president – than a real asset, who is on top of the situation and can be entrusted with handling the day-to-day affairs of state with sharp precision and brilliance?

I was following an interview on the US news channel CNN, in which the guest, Don Lemon (anchor of Don Lemon Tonight) was being asked his views on President Joe Biden’s suitability to run for the 2024 presidential elections – possibly, against another aging contender, former president Donald Trump.

Biden and Trump are 79 and 76 years old, respectively.

Lemon, who is slightly older than I am at 56 years old, was refreshingly candid, as he alluded to the fact that, it is impossible to imagine our parents – who are in their 70s, and clearly now finding it most difficult to understand certain complex concepts, or remembering things – being entrusted with presiding over a country, neither do they still have the stamina needed for the hectic and demanding schedule.

As much as the love for my dear mother is unquestionable and immeasurable – I would never recommend that she takes up the immense burden of running the affairs of state.

This got me thinking – how old are our own leaders in Zimbabwe?

President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa is 79 years old this year, whilst his deputy Constantino Chiwenga is 65.

I have never spent even a hour with either – although, I was once introduced to Mnangagwa at a local hotel some many years ago, when he was still a cabinet minister, by a close friend of his, who was also the mayor of Redcliff, whom we were relatively endeared to one another, whereby I sat down for a quick chat – as such, do not have the slightest knowledge of his reasoning and critical thinking abilities.

Nevertheless, it would be folly if we were to ignore these two men’s advanced ages, and how that could impact or affect their performance in their unforgiving roles – as well as, the wider implications for the nation as a whole.

In fact, I am absolutely sure there is a justifiable and scientifically-proven reason as to why the retirement age in most countries is pegged at between 60 and 65 years old – with the Zimbabwe Constitution (Section 82) classifying anyone over 70 as “elderly”, deserving “to receive reasonable care and assistance from their families, to receive health care and medical assistance from the State, and to receive financial support by way of social security”.

This logic also applies to why persons under the age of 18 years cannot marry – with the recent Constitutional Court ruling similarly pegging the age of legal sexual consent at the same age – since, those younger have been deemed not only unfit and too immature to make marriage or sexual decisions, but also incapable of handling the pressures surrounding this institution.

I once queried in a previous article, on what grounds an employee is retired from his beloved profession as soon as he attains 65 years old – whilst, the president of a country is permitted to stand for elections till kingdom come?

I asked whether a role as teaching could be considered more difficult and demanding, than running a country – on account of the former being regarded incapable of proficiently continuing in that position from a particular age, yet presidents not affected.

Am I missing something here?

If a president is considered perfectly capable of presiding over a country unmolested – save only for an “inability to perform the functions of the office because of physical or mental incapacity”, according to Section 97(1d) of the Constitution, which I am sure such incapacitation being ascertained only by a competent professional – then, why not the same applying to every other citizen?

My humble thoughts are that, what is good enough for the gander, should be good enough for the goose – and, what is currently widely accepted is that, those over a certain age (be it, 60, 65, or 70 years) are no longer proficient enough for fulltime employment.

Therefore, the logical and fair thing would be for the presidency to have a set retirement age, as everyone else – but, should there be a request for an exemption, then the affected individual needs to undergo requisite rigorous competence and suitability tests by a competent professional.

I definitely do not have a problem with the prevailing stipulation regarding the minimum age of 40 years for a president – since, that is commonly accepted as the age of maturity for such a task – but, it is imperative for a maximum age to be set.

© Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, researcher, and social commentator. Please feel free to contact him on WhatsApp/Call: +263715667700 / +263782283975, or Calls Only: +263788897936 / +263733399640, email: [email protected]


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