By Violet Gonda
19 March 2013
President Robert Mugabe was in Italy on Tuesday for the inauguration mass for Pope Francis, bypassing a travel ban imposed by the European Union, which does not apply to the Vatican City state.
Mugabe, a devout Catholic, travelled to the holy city with his wife Grace, their children and several government officials, a couple of days after the constitutional referendum. The poll was followed by the arrests of a human rights lawyer and political activists a day later.
The Zimbabwean leader is accused of human rights abuses by western governments and in 2005 Prince Charles drew controversy in Britain when he shook hands with him at the funeral of Pope John Paul 11. The Prince’s aides claimed the heir to the throne had been caught by surprise when Mugabe offered his hand during the ceremony at the Vatican.
The president also attended the beatification of the Pope in 2011.
Pope Francis became the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, who retired last month at the age of 85.
At 89, Mugabe appears to be still going strong.
“I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” Pope Benedict said, becoming the first Pope to stand down since the Middle Ages.
The MDC-T SA said in a statement: “With those words the then Pope Benedict XVI set in motion a chain of events that has now seen Robert Mugabe in Rome today to attend the inauguration of a new Pope.”
“It is worth remembering that the celebrations in Rome today are as a result of an election. The Pope after all is an elected official. Whilst he is being high and mighty in Rome Mugabe must ask around whether any people died in the election. He will find that none of the Cardinals reported that one of their 12 year old cousins had been petrol bombed as he slept. He might well discover that there was white smoke to signal the happy occasion of the end of the election and not blood on the streets. The thought of an election should not bring the fear into the minds of the electorate.”
Meanwhile, Zimbabweans voted overwhelmingly in favour of the new constitution, in results issued by authorities on Tuesday, paving the way for elections.