Then Vice Presidents Joshua Nkomo died in 1999 at the age of 82, Simon Muzenda died in 2003 at 81 and Joseph Msika died in 2009 at the age of 86.
What is common among these is that they all died in office, all through long illness, all were into their 80s and were all among long serving government officials.
Currently, President Robert Mugabe is still keeping in office Vice President John Nkomo, who is 78 and ill.
Mugabe (88) is among the world’s oldest leaders.
Co-Vice President Joice Mujuru is 57 and was among his first post independence ministers.
Together with his two Vice Presidents, they have a combined age of 223 years. This means the average age in the Zanu (PF) wing of the presidium in government is 74.
Mugabe has also kept his old guards in cabinet who are well into their 60s and 70s.
Webster Shamu is 67, Didymus Mutasa 77, Sydney Sekeramai 68, Obert Mpofu 61, Francis Nhema 53, Nicholas Goche 66, Joseph Made 58, Emmerson Mnangagwa 66, Kembo Mohadi 63, Olivia Muchena 66 and Hebert Murerwa 71, Ignatius Chombo 60, Sithembiso Nyoni 63, Patrick Chinamasa 65, Simbarashe Mumbengegwi 67 and Silvester Nguni is 57.
Younger Ministers such as Saviour Kasukuwere (42) and Walter Mzembi 48 form a tiny minority.
Mugabe demonstrated his obsession with old age when he blocked an Movement for Democratc Change (MDC) sponsored constitutional clause which sought to limit the age of any aspiring leader to 70.
To start with, his Zanu (PF)’s youth portfolio is held by 50 year old Absalom Sikhosana.
Only a few years ago, he vetoed the election of one of his youngest MPs Makhosini Hlongwane, when the later floored veteran politician Rugare Gumbo, now party spokesperson, in the Zanu (PF) primaries.
The death last week of Higher and Tertiary Education Minister Stan Mudenge at the ripe age of 71 begs for answers as to why Mugabe would rather see all his cronies die in office.
The first theory could be that Mugabe is nostalgic.
He is one leader who treasures his liberation war past and feels he can best preserve it by converting his cabinet into a defacto museum. No wonder most of these are also war veterans.
In that, Mugabe is also hitting two birds with one stone.
He does not trust the so called young turks who are independent of thought and do not carry the liberation war hang over in their heads.
He would rather carry on his back, a group of politicians who are still shackled to the past; politicians who would quickly dash to seek cover in their liberation war heroics as an excuse for mismanaging the country’s affairs; politicians who see more value in delving into history where they have spent most of their time than the future where they have less time left.
Mugabe knows younger politicians are over ambitious. They are inclined to focus on what they potentially stand to gain while the sun still shines.
In keeping the young turks out, Mugabe is showing concern of his own self preservation.
He knows younger politicians have time and the energy to go into perilous adventure.
Mugabe would rather do with his older comrades are indebted to him for giving them unlimited time to plunder the country’s resources.
Another theory could be that Mugabe now feels lonely.
He feels deserted by his peers and other founding leaders such as Mozambique’s Samora Machel (late), Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda, Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere (late), Namibia’s Sam Nujoma and late comers such as Nelson Mandela who relinquished power after serving a single term.
Mugabe often accuses their successors of being fragile under western pressure. He longs to have his erstwhile comrades he dealt with during their countries’ war of liberation.
To mitigate these losses, he would rather deal with what he can control.
This he has achieved by surrounding himself with a crop of local politicians who are almost his age.
But there has been a price that the nation has had to pay for that. For example most of his museum cabinet often seek treatment outside the country.