When a history lecture was worth the occasion
By Lovemore Ranga Mataire recently in Victoria Falls
By 9:45 am last Monday, the venue for the WHO Africa Committee for Africa meeting at Elephant Hills, Victoria Falls, was full.
An air of expectation engulfed the atmosphere as delegates waited for the guest of honour to arrive.
And as the delegates warmed up to his arrival with musical interlude, the proceedings director, Dr Gerald Gwinji, stood to announce that the guest of honour was making his way into the venue.
In military style unison, the whole auditorium stood up in honour of the Head of State and Commander in Chief of the Zimbabwe Defences Forces, President Robert Mugabe.
The grandmaster of African politics made his way to the high table – silently acknowledging the honour and set next to the Minister of Health and Child Welfare, Dr David Parirenyatwa.
The President surveyed his audience, seemingly amused by the palpable attention of his audience all eager for a snapshot of the man who defied the odds by outwitting and outliving his adversaries at home and abroad.
He looked relaxed. But had this wirly expression on his face of someone about to empty a bagful of inconvenient truths.
After addresses by WHO notables, Dr Parirenyatwa took the podium and invited the guest of honour to address the delegates.
Clad in a navy blue pin-stipped suit, an immaculate white shirt and a contrasting scarlet red tie, President Mugabe looked much younger than his age as he stood to deliver his address.
Again he fumbled for that wirly smile that tells you that he is on to something big.
It was clear even from the far end of the of the room that the political grandmaster was in his best political moods.
Within minutes of his prepared speech, the President went off the cuffs deftly taking advantage of his cosmopolitan audience to deliver some inconvenient historical home truths.
To the uninitiated, his off the cuff remarks sounded like offmark piano keys.
But to those with a keen sense of history and fair understanding of the interconnectedness of health and politics; they knew that the President was not off the mark.
So he started by reiterating the example given by Dr Abhreyesus of a dying woman sacrificing all for the survival of her child.
“The weakness of our world system is that when innocent countries are attacked we fold our hands…I am saying this off the cuff because it worries me. Where are we going? Where is the world going?” the President rhetorically inquired.
Before long he had his audience in stitches. He jokingly said he wished if man could also develop wombs to carry a baby for nine months just to have the experience that every woman goes through during pregnancy.
But his message was not lost, the world was at risk not just from religious zealots but also from leaders who act with impunity all for the love and envy of other countries precious resources.
While southern Africa had not had the ignomy of religious fanaticism of the nature of Boko Haram, other regions have had to live living in mortal fear of demented religious demagogues lurking somewhere in some dark crevices of the underworld.
“We thought Mali was safe but no. We thought Nigeria with that great and grand status they have given to themselves will not have murderous organisations but we were shocked when over 200 school children just disappeared and nobody knows where they,” he said.
Quick to dismiss the danger of being labelled an aetheist, President Mugabe bared all by saying he is a Catholic.
But Catholicism, just like most religions, is built on the basis of humanitarianism. Thou shall not kill and love one another form part of the core 10 commandments underlining Christianity.
President Mugabe questioned a society built on foundation of murder and exhorted the past ages for their abhorence to unnecessary bloodshed.
Its not by some random afterthought that the murderous religious zealots are mentioned in the same breadth with the likes of former US President George W. Bush and ex-British premier Tony Blair. Even fellow African countries are not spared from the contextualisation.
Some delegates should have wondered what all this had to do with health matters.
But actually, all resonated, exemplifying Mugabe’s deeper awareness of global affairs and how one facet is connected with the other.
Within the context of these serious global matters President Mugabe iced the conversation an anecdote of his childhood affliction with bilharzia and how his former school became a rendezvous of an epidemic.
He talked about the excruciating injections and the foul smell of medicine that literally chocked whole classrooms.
But the world has moved on since then. New medicine for bilharzia has been developed. But what has regressed is the sense of humanitarianism.
So what was the import of President Mugabe’s off the cuff remarks? Its plain clear. There can be no tangible health strategies delivered and implemented without world peace.
In essence, the President was indirectly urging the new WHO director-general to be conscious of contemporary world politics and its effect on health delivery, especially in less developed countries.
For those able to connect the dots, the President’s off the cuff remarks spoke to the imperatives needing urgent remedial action.
And there were many who connected those dots judging by the standing ovation that marked the end of his speech.
He closed his 1 hour 50 minutes address on a lighthearted note humanising the animal species found in Victoria Falls, described each animal by its common traits.
He urged delegates to visit the majestic Mosi-oa-Tunya and also enjoy the flora and fauna in the resort town.
He said even the animals felt excited to welcome such a large contingent of local and international visitors.
As the President declared the summit officially opened and exited the podium, one could not help but marvel at the energy and zeal he posses whenever he takes to the stage.
One could not help but wonder whether Zimbabwe, the continent and the globe will ever have enough of the man’s eloquency, encyclopedic grasp of history, intelligent anecdotes and unwavering patriotic zeal.