HARARE, Zimbabwe — “Do you want me to punch you to the floor to realize I am still there?”
The speaker was not a boxer trash-talking before a fight. It was Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who is 92 and known for pugnacious comments.
This one, to an interviewer from state TV, was in response to a question about retirement plans and who would succeed him.
“Why ‘successor’ when I am still there?” Mugabe said in the interview aired Thursday night. “Why do you want a successor?”
Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe since the country was formed in 1980 from the ashes of white-ruled Rhodesia, says he has no plans to hand over power and ruled out grooming his politically ambitious wife, Grace, as his chosen successor.
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“Grooming a successor, is it an inheritance,” he asked. “In a democratic party you don’t want leaders appointed that way. They have to be appointed properly by the people. Succession is not part of our culture.”
Mugabe turned 92 on Feb. 21 amid fierce squabbling in the ruling ZANU-PF party in anticipation of his succession.
Still, he defended his wife’s entry into politics and criticized people for badmouthing her.
On Thursday, spokesman Simon Khaya Moyo of the ruling ZANU-PF party announced the suspension from the party of Cabinet Minister Chris Mutsvangwa and several other officials on allegations of disrespecting the First Lady.
In the interview, Mugabe said mining companies recently kicked out of Marange diamond fields in eastern Zimbabwe “robbed us of our wealth,” claiming billions of dollars were siphoned in gem smuggling.
Some of the firms have gone to court challenging the order for them to leave the diamond-rich area.