MANY people who saw online British public service television broadcaster, Channel 4’s video footage showing President Robert Mugabe entering an upmarket private medical facility in Singapore could have pitied the panic-stricken Zimbabwean leader and his wife Grace as she helplessly protested against being filmed by journalists who had evidently ambushed them.
Editor’s Memo with Dumisani Muleya
It was a somewhat pitiful sight to see an elderly president, a nonagenarian in fact, and his wife looking flustered, remonstrating weakly as they entered the exclusive Gleneagles Hospital, well-known for the best cancer and eye treatment in the world, while media hounds retorted rolling their cameras and capturing them.
The ambush produced the first published material on where exactly Mugabe receives his regular medical treatment for, at least officially, eye cataracts even though the clinic also treats other diseases, including cancer.
The video and attendant stories generated viral interest among viewers and readers around the world, causing debate on whether it was necessary and fair to film Mugabe.
Those who did not want him filmed said it was a breach of his privacy, a protestation widely dismissed by some who say since Mugabe is a head of state, he deserves public scrutiny, particularly when he is using public funds to fly to a far-flung destination to seek medical treatment.
While it is both human and humane to feel sorry for Mugabe, especially as an elder and in view of his visible health complications, it is also legitimate to say his condition is a matter of public interest given his position and that taxpayers’ money is used to fund his trips and medical bills.
As we have pointed out before, Mugabe’s health is genuinely in the public interest. His well-being or lack of it thereof has a bearing on how government and the country are run, which means in the final analysis it impacts on the welfare of Zimbabweans in general.
As such, there is no reason why Mugabe’s health and where he goes for treatment must be a secret.
There should have been transparency from the start and even updates on the issue from time to time to assure the nation he is fine — if indeed he would be — and all these stories and incessant speculation would not arise as an issue.
After all, going to a hospital or clinic is just a normal thing, especially for a 90-year old person. It might well be that Mugabe could actually have got a lot of sympathy and even prayers from the public like Nelson Mandela before his death.
Trying to hide the truth and to mislead the public is unhelpful, particularly in the digital and social media age.
The Zimbabwean government is taking too long to understand the dynamics of the technology-savvy world we are now living in. That is why some misguided officials have been trying to intimidate journalists and criminalise reports on Mugabe’s health.
But the reality is Orwellian information and news manipulation methods no longer work.
That said, it is interesting Mugabe, who likes portraying himself as a patriot and nationalist to the core, prefers foreign medical doctors and institutions to local ones.
Mugabe’s daughter Bona also went to foreign universities. Together with his family, they seem to enjoy globe-trotting in foreign lands for holidays and shopping, hoping to get better things from abroad — a cargo mentality of sorts.
Only recently, reports said they have an overseas mansion they are battling in the courts in Hong Kong to retain ownership of. All along we thought they love everything about Zimbabwe. But now it seems Mugabe and his family actually don’t believe local is lekker.
So much for patriotism!