14 January 2014

Zimbabwe: Questions Surround Truth About Robert Mugabe's Health

Photo: Robert Nolan/FPA
President Robert Mugabe (file photo).

If you visit social media platforms these days you'll see a flurry of postings on President Robert Mugabe, with anxious Zimbabweans wanting to know his state of health following reports he is unwell.

Many are asking if Mugabe, who turns 90 next month is still fit enough to continue as Head of State six months after his ZANU PF party won the elections that are being disputed by the opposition.

Journalists have tried to sort out fact from rumour, but they got no help from the government who offered a vague assurance that the country's long time leader was back home from the Far East, "but he is still on holiday until the end of January."

Mugabe annually goes on leave for a full month but this time he was away for two weeks. The state media has a habit of covering all his return trips from official and private journeys at the Harare international airport.

This time, they did not. Instead they only carried a story that he had returned. Disastrously, an old photo of Mugabe from a year ago was used this time around, with the caption giving the impression it was taken at the airport on his return from his trip.

More intriguing was George Charamba's statement that Mugabe will still be on leave until the end of the month, with no mention of the reports of his reported ill-health. ZANU PF has previously robustly denied any reports that its leader is sick. But this time around there has been silence.

Political analyst Gideon Chitanga said it could be that Mugabe has instructed his handlers not to say anything on his health as that is his private business. He also speculated that it might be that nobody has the 'guts' to speak about the health issues without seeking clearance from the ageing leader.

As the news blackout continues, so does the speculation over whether Mugabe is sick or not. Without any statement from the government the public is enduring endless rumors and counter rumours emanating from political interest groups.

Chitanga added that at this point the issue is neither about a single individual or a single party, nor even about political differences.

"This is about ZANU PF's lack of culture of accountability and transparency. It is disconcerting that weeks after Mugabe vanished from public view, Zimbabweans still have no answers as to how long he will remain absent," said Chitanga.

Political observer Mutsa Murenje waded into discussion and asked why officials find it acceptable to continue to keep the public in perpetual darkness.

"If the country is governed by its constitution, the current secrecy makes no sense. The government is obligated to answer these questions: Where is Mugabe? What is the nature of his illness? When should the public expect him back? The public needs to know," Murenje said.

He added that in these uncertain times, the continuing lack of accurate information is dangerous. Zimbabweans cannot afford to gamble the future of the country with rumors and counter rumors.

"It is high time the ruling party level with the Zimbabwean people and be forthcoming about the exact status of the country's leader as he is the first citizen," he said.

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