columnBy Stewart Chabwinja
Following his address at the National Sports Stadium on Independence Day last Friday, President Robert Mugabe once again finds himself the subject of much domestic and international speculation not necessarily concerning his rambling and incoherent speech, but his health.
Those who have seen close-up pictures of Mugabe addressing the gathering, or watched him deliver his speech on TV would no doubt have noticed he appeared to struggle, particularly with his right eye, ostensibly in addition to other rumoured ailments, including the right knee which he confirmed had "started to give a bit of trouble" in his 90th birthday interview in February, besides reports of prostate cancer.
The eye appeared nearly shut, and the frail looking Mugabe removed his spectacles several times during the address, something he is not in the habit of doing.
people took to the social media to post images of Mugabe's travails, with some suggesting he was fast turning blind, while others felt Zimbabwe could be a laughing stock for voting a 90-year-old, ailing man back into power.
Whatever excuses his spin doctors concoct, speculation over Mugabe's health will simply not go away for he is nonagenarian, which is associated with a gamut of ailments. he holds the highest office in the land and many believe the country's short and long-term prospects are inextricably linked to his fate and succession.
While there will always be cynics out to make fun of Mugabe's failing health and even some with a macabre fascination with it, the sight of the world's oldest executive president apparently having problems with his eye -- the source of frequent shuffles to the Far East where he continues to receive medical attention -- must have evoked much sympathy even from his detractors.
But the empathy over Mugabe's health issues must have been tempered with deep concerns over his fitness to rule despite his recent and oft-reprised assurances he is "fit as a fiddle".
This is particularly so given the fact Zimbabwe has been in the throes of debilitating economic woes for well over a decade, with disturbing signs the economy is under resurgent stress following Mugabe and Zanu PF's rigging-claim-tainted triumph in last year's general elections.
Tackling the formidable challenges require a fit, focused, energetic and competent leader, which can hardly be said of Mugabe for many years now.
While he claimed in a recent interview "the desire to serve the country drives me", the enormity of the country's socio-economic morass leaves Mugabe's "desire" alone woefully inadequate.
Although government on Wednesday countered growing concerns over Mugabe's health by reportedly insisting allegations he was having problems with his eye were malicious, it has been previously confirmed he has had cataracts removed from his right eye by his spokesperson George Charamba.
Besides that, a genuine picture, or video footage, tells a thousand words, as that cliche goes.
Instructively, in 2009 then Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu reportedly disclosed Mugabe's vision was so poor that he could no longer read newspapers, and instructed editors at a briefing to increase the papers' font (letter) size for him to read.