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Can failing health stop Mugabe?

George Charamba who was at the forefront of denials that the 87-year-old leader had undergone a major operation to deal with suspected prostate cancer last month on Sunday announced that his boss had gone to Singapore for a medical review.

He revealed for the first time that Mugabe had undergone a “minor” operation during his annual leave to remove an eye cataract.

Mugabe will be back in the country in time for his birthday tomorrow, Charamba said.

But this has done little to stop the rumours about the president’s health and speculation that his ability to withstand a grueling campaign for yet another term is diminishing.

Mugabe is pushing for elections this year despite protests from his opponents and the business sector.

This has heightened speculation that he is trying to manage his contentious succession.

Bekithemba Mpofu, a Zimababwean academic based in the United Kingdom said Mugabe would soldier on despite his failing health.

“There is no evidence that suggests that Mugabe will hand over power within Zanu PF even when it is clear his health is deteriorating due to old age,” he said.

“One could therefore conclude that he is convinced no one within his party’s ranks can defeat the opposition or lead the country.

“Alternatively people within the party itself might agree to the notion that he is Zanu PF’s holding glue.

“So I do not think his health problems will ever stop him from being a candidate in the next election.”

Mugabe has never hidden his ambition to become a life president in the mould of Malawi’s Kamuzu Banda and then Zaire’s Mobuto Sese Seko.

Diplomats who have spent time with the father of three say he is too fit for an 87 year old.

In one of the United States diplomatic cables leaked by whistleblower website Wikileaks last year, former US ambassador to Zimbabwe James MaGee said Mugabe was “alert, articulate, in apparent good health.”

MaGee thought the president who does not drink or smoke was “possibly the healthiest 85-year old.”

Eldred Masungure, a political scientist from the University of Zimbabwe said although there was limited information on Mugabe’s health, his continued absence could be an indication of a bigger problem.

Last week there were reports that some members of Mugabe’s cabinet believe his prolonged absence was beginning to affect government’s operations.

Masunungure said this would seriously affect the Zanu PF leader’s ability to campaign if elections were called soon.
“It depends on the gravity of his illness and we don’t seem to have full information to be able to make an informed assessment,” Masunungure said.

“But if his health deteriorates it will obviously compromise his ability to launch a fully fledged campaign.
“I think he would not have the physical stamina to spearhead a grueling campaign.”

Mugabe’s previous campaigns were usually characterised by at least four rallies in one province a day but it is highly unlikely that he can maintain the punishing schedule this time around.

His main opponent would be Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai who turns 59 next month.

Mugabe became Zimbabwe’s first black leader in 1980 when he was appointed prime minister.

He became executive president seven years later and has dealt brutally with pretenders to his throne from within his Zanu PF party.

The wily politician has also dismissed talk about his succession saying there is no vacancy.

However his popularity has declined sharply since the time his oratory skills could win the hearts and minds of ordinary Zimbabweans.

In 2002 he controversially beat Tsvangirai in presidential elections.

Tsvangirai also beat Mugabe in the first round of the 2008 presidential elections but the former trade unionist failed to garner enough votes to claim the presidency.

Mugabe’s party regrouped and launched a violent campaign never seen since the end of Gukurahundi and forced Tsvangirai to withdraw from the second round.

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