Age is nothing but a number

2013-08-07 00:00

IN the light of the Zimbabwean election results, it would be great if commentators developed the courage to say what they mean and mean what they say.

Analysts and commentators have left many of us none the wiser about what really happened in Zimbabwe because they have often put forward their own ideological stances as comment.

They have used proxy arguments and, in the process, obscured what they really meant. In many instances, those who applaud Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, and call the elections free and fair, are merely mouthing their preference for Mugabe and endorsing what they see as his anti-imperialist ideological stance.

Many have said Mugabe is too old to rule. In a different set-up, the same people will tell you that they wish that former president Nelson Mandela had not served one term. If they said what they mean, they would leave age out of the equation.

They would say they think Mugabe is a bad guy and Mandela a good guy.

For if age were a real issue, I wonder how many would say that Julius Malema’s youth — he is 32 — qualifies him for an office of public responsibility.

For whatever reason, politics tends to be a game for the more mature in age. It is in that regard, a lot like being a judge, where the mere fact of having lived longer is assumed to give you the wisdom you need to navigate some of the nasty twists that many roads have in abundance.

In business, Warren Buffett, easily the most successful person of the 20th century, will turn 83 at the end of this month. He is as sharp as a razor and nobody in their right mind would suggest that he get himself a rocking chair and a knee rug.

So whether you believe that Mugabe’s victory is good or bad for Zimbabwe, it is unhelpful to use his age to bolster arguments.

I hope one day ageism will be regarded as the bigotry that it is. Being older does not in itself suddenly render useless a person who was once competent.

Needless to say, advanced age limits what was once youthful zeal. Last year, Pope Benedict XVI abdicated, citing advanced age. So did Queen Beatrix of Netherlands, who abdicated after a 33-year reign in favour of her son, Willem-Alexander.

It is dishonest and arbitrary to tarnish all senior citizens with the same brush of impotence because of their age. It is worth noting that Mandela was trusted to run a country as an inexperienced 74-year-old, but the corporate world thinks nothing of discarding people in their 60s, saying they are too old.

There are many reasons for saying that Mugabe is a good or bad president. Like Israeli president Shimon Peres, who at 90 years is the oldest head of state in the world, he should be measured on his contributions to the office rather than his age.

Good and bad heads of state come in all shapes and all ages. Nobody should be held responsible for when they were born.

Every person must, however, account for what he or she does, especially if he or she is entrusted with public power. In that regard, age is nothing but a number.

• Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is a freelance journalist and former editor of The Witness.

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