President Mugabe on Wednesday charmed the usually-hostile media during a joint press conference address with his South African counterpart Jacob Zuma. The two leaders faced the media at the Union Buildings in Tshwane after the signing of three major deals between the two neighbours as part of President Mugabe’s historic State visit. However, President Mugabe soon grabbed the limelight during a wide-ranging address that he spiced up with disarming jokes and witticism that left the audience, including journalists, in stitches.
And when the usually anti-Zimbabwe, white-controlled media took to their newsrooms, they were effusive about President Mugabe’s charm and charisma. “Robert Mugabe has a significant fan base in South Africa,” said Jean-Jacques Cornish, EWN Africa correspondent.
“He stood talking for an hour today! We were sweating and laughing; it was quite amazing! It’s like going to see a rock star you don’t like. When you see him live you realise how good he is!”
Jenni Evans of News24 said, “(President) Zuma covered his mouth to hide his own laughing and at times his shoulders shook at Mugabe’s offbeat comments.”
The Southern African correspondent for the UK Guardian, David Smith, said President Mugabe “was charming and defiant” and reduced his host “to a mere bit part as Mugabe put on a piece of political theatre reminiscent of a generation of post-independence African leaders who, irrespective of their personal moral standing, could deploy an easy charisma and informal manner seldom seen in today’s scripted, stage-managed era.”
Smith noted how President Mugabe easily laughed off jaundiced description of him as a dictator.
But Simon Ellison of Daily Maverick, a usual critic of the veteran politician was even more effusive in his praise.
He said in a feature article: “After his credible election victory in 2013, Mugabe has legitimacy as president . . .”, an involuntary admission by a media that has been seeking to see the back of President Mugabe. On the President Mugabe show itself, Ellison said, “In a former life, Mugabe was a school teacher, and it shows. “He has a knack of explaining complex issues in simple language, and is entertaining while doing so.”
He also said: “Mugabe is also deceptively funny. The jokes don’t necessarily translate on the page, but he was playing for laughs and got them on several occasions.” Concluding: “Overall, it was a convincing performance. There is no doubt that, even at his advanced age, Mugabe is a consummate politician, and charismatic with it too.” On social network sites, many users also praised President Mugabe for his strength, charisma and good sense of humour.