Mugabe falls
President Robert Mugabe's fall at Harare airport (Youtube screenshot)

Several bodyguards of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe have been punished for failing to prevent him falling down the steps from a podium, in an incident that drew widespread mockery online.

The 90-year-old dictator was captured on camera as he stumbled on a red carpet and fell to his knees after addressing supporters who gathered to welcome him back from a trip to Ethiopia at Harare airport last week.

His staff scrambled to cover up the embarrassing incident, with photographers at the scene saying they were forced to delete an image which could have undermined Mugabe's claim that, despite his advanced age, he is "fit as two fiddles".

Information Minister Jonathan Moyo maintained that even Jesus would have tripped over such a poorly laid-out carpet, but the Zimbabwean president "remarkably managed to break the fall on his own".

Nevertheless an official investigation into the mishap was launched, leading to some 27 of Mugabe's security staff being suspended as they allegedly failed to help him out swiftly enough, local newspaper Standard reported.

"The issue here is simple. The security team was caught napping," a security source was quoted as saying. "There are many departments that are being investigated, from Air Zimbabwe, the advance team and the security. I doubt if some of them will come back."

The government denied a shake-up of Mugabe's security team took place but numerous new bodyguards were reportedly seen on duty as he met President Edgar Lungu of Zambia last week.