Was The Zimbabwe Mail duped by CIO on Mugabe's health
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The Zimbabwe Mail, one of dozens of website to have emerged to feed the insatiable Zimbabwe diaspora's appetite for news from home - and domestic Zimbabwe's appetite for tabloidesque rumour - has since retracted the story and apologised for it, although not before reporting that Mugabe had returned home on Sunday in a wheelchair. Like its first story, the second was entirely without foundation. Mugabe returned on Thursday (12 April 2012) - on an Airbus A319 charter flight at US$176 000 (R1,4-million) one way from Singapore - and while he did not actually stride from the plane, he did so on his own feet.
There is some indication that behind the Zimbabwe Mail reports was intentional misinformation from the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) purposefully confusing matters to disguise growing concern within his Zanu-PF party over his health. But the willingness on Zimbabwe's energetic and vocal fringe website population to report gossip and rumour as fact could equally be responsible.
It is not clear what triggered the global "Mugabe deathbed" frenzy in which the hitherto unknown Zimbabwe Mail provided the only, and usually unattributed, sourcing. The story was given some traction by Mugabe's flu, contracted shortly before he flew out to Singapore on 31 March 2012, as did the fact that the Zimbabwe Mail published at the end of the Easter break, traditionally a slow news period.
The ultimate effect is to muddy the waters over Mugabe's fading health, and to obscure the reasons for his frequent visits to Singapore.
Mugabe is not, and has never been, "on his deathbed". But at 88, with his sight failing and prostate cancer diagnosed early last year (Vol 20 No 12), he is frail and his health is declining. His is unable to chair the regular Tuesday Cabinet meetings for more than two hours, and even at his most energetic, works for only four hours a day. Several in his inner circle maintain that the prostate cancer diagnosis was accompanied by diagnosis that the cancer had spread to other organs. This has not yet been confirmed.
He is often unsteady on his feet, and cannot easily negotiate stairs without the support of aides on each side. At public meetings, police routinely isolate a bathroom for his exclusive use. He regularly makes use of it, accompanied by an aide carrying a bag, and is often engaged for 30 minutes at a time. There is evidence that he no longer has full control of his bladder - a classic symptom of advanced prostate cancer.
He suffers from apparently painful swollen ankles. The ZimEye website runs, with gleeful regularity, photographs tracking the steady increase in the size of the swellings.
There is some indication that his regular visits to Singapore are partly necessitated by his prostate problems. But there is evidence that whatever treatment he receives sees him back in Harare temporarily invigorated and more energetic.
In March 2011, after he returned from his fourth visit to Singapore, Southern Africa Report recorded: "He no longer requires assistance in walking - which he did until three weeks ago - and looks rigorous and energetic when he's at work. But he can no longer put in more than a half-day workday, and ends Monday Cabinet meetings promptly at noon to retire and recover for the next day. Last Sunday (27 March 2011) Mugabe gave a robust speech and punched out his main campaign message, "western sanctions" and "indigenisation", for 50 minutes before walking, unaided, up a hill at Hero's Acre to pay respects to Zanu PF stalwart, Harare governor David Karamanzira, who died earlier in the week."
But his revitalised periods are growing increasingly shorter.
And his visits to Singapore are growing longer, with executive government activity rudderless in his absence. Legislative reform and other government work requiring Cabinet approval are paralysed when Mugabe is out the country. His absences are adding strain to the processes necessary before the next general election, due by April 2013 if Zimbabwe holds to the multi-party political agreement signed in September 2008.
Two Tuesday Cabinets were cancelled to accommodate the latest trip - Mugabe refuses to allow Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai to chair them in his absence.
Last year he was away for nearly three months, with his year-end break followed immediately by a series of visits to Singapore. This year Cabinet meetings began only in February after Mugabe's return from Asia, only to be stalled for his latest trip.
Mugabe routinely travels with his personal chef, who prepares everything he eats.
Mugabe's other reasons for visiting Singapore were also lost in the "Mugabe deathbed" media frenzy.
He initially claimed, through his staff, that he was going to Singapore to settle his eldest child, Bona Mugabe, 23, into university for postgraduate studies. She completed her BA honours (in accounting) at Hong Kong City University in late 2011 and was capped last November. Separate reports suggested Bona was taking articles in Hong Kong, a city she knows well.
But graduate programmes in Singapore (and Hong Kong) admit students either in August or January - not in April.
Some of Mugabe's aides suggest that part of the reason for the trip is because the "old man" has bought a property in Singapore, notionally for his daughter, but in fact as a long term bolt hole if he - or first lady Grace Mugabe, after he dies - wants to be out of Zimbabwe for long periods. Grace Mugabe lost the flat she had bought in Hong Kong when she fell out with Chinese citizen, Jack Ping - now mostly resident in South Africa - when he transferred the property from company ownership to his name. The property had been registered in the name of his company to disguise its true ownership.
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Source: Southern Africa Report
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