The year was 1993 and Jerusalem's legendary mayor Teddy Kollek, who had held office since 1965, was running for yet another term. With his party out of power, the then ambitious Knesset member Ehud Olmert decided that he would attempt the impossible and enter the mayoralty race against Kollek.
It was necessary, however, to find the right tactic to use in the campaign. Given the legend that his rival had built up, a frontal attack was suicidal. The campaign managers hit on a brilliant ploy; they would not attack the mayor, but the Labor Party functionaries who were forcing Kollek to run again despite his advanced age.
Ehud Olmert won the race using these tactics.
This tactic is being resurrected in Zimbabwe by the opponents of President Robert Mugabe, who has been in power longer than the late Kollek was mayor of Jerusalem.
It is grossly unfair and perhaps even sacrilege to compare Teddy Kollek to Robert Mugabe, as the latter runs a vicious kleptocracy that has reduced Zimbabwe, a mineral rich granary, to a basket case.
However, many Zimbabwans still revere Mugabe as one of the leaders against white rule in the country.
The West will not do for Zimbabwe what it did for Libya, because the flagrant political repression carried out against the opposition is so frequent that is has become taken for granted.
Now the opposition has decided to kill Mugabe with kindness. Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition who holds a post of prime minister as part of a unity government engineered by other African countries, expressed his sympathy for Robert Mugabe, who is reported to be suffering from prostate cancer and has just returned from what has become a monthly visit to Singapore to receive treatment (the cover story is that he is suffering from cataracts).
Accordingly, Tsangvirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change and the declared candidate for president in a race that will take place in 2012, told a press conference:
"The question of age is catching up, the question of health is catching up. I am sure that advisably he would be in a position for the sake of the country, for the sake of his legacy, for the sake of his children to consider stepping down."
When asked about the president's costly trips and treatments in Singapore, the opposition leader was all sympathy, but hinted that the president was seriously ill. If he had been suffering from malaria, he said, he could be treated "at the nearest hospital". Since it seems to be something else, it was justified for him to travel to Asia at the state's expense, as "the responsibility of the state is to look after its leaders. If the president is sick he should be attended to,"
Magaret Dongo, who once belonged to Mugabe's ZANU PF party but bolted and fought to enter parliament as an independent, also expressed her concern.
“ZANU PF is overworking Gushungo (Mugabe), he needs to rest. The law of diminishing returns also applies to humans. As you grow older you can’t do all you used to do. Your mind and body get tired, even look at me; I am 51, I can’t do the things I used to do at 30 so well or even at 20. Mugabe must rest,”
ZANU PF itself realizes that despite Robert Mugabe's confident assertions that he, at age 87, is as fit as ever, they have a problem. Most of the party still feels that they cannot enter the contest without the figure of Robert Mugabe.
As frequently occurs with autocracies, no successor has been named and no one has been allowed to bask in the limelight at the expense of the revered leader.