PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe, who turns 91 in a fortnight as he battles prostate cancer and eye problems, is widely seen as no longer fit to govern with close government officials and aides saying old age and health problems are taking a heavy toll on him.
Mugabe’s precarious situation was reflected by his shock and dramatic fall at the Harare International Airport on Wednesday.
He made headlines for tumbling while getting off from a podium after addressing ministers, security service chiefs and Zanu PF From Page 1
supporters upon his arrival from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he had taken over the rotational African Union (AU) chairmanship.
Government officials and aides close to Mugabe say they have closely observed in recent years that the president has been fast deteriorating in terms of physical stature, mental alertness and health.
One official close to him said yesterday that Zimbabweans are grossly under-estimating how old-age, prostate cancer, eye problems and other opportunistic infections associated with elderliness have ravaged and taken their toll on the veteran politician.
“Mugabe has been battling these problems, prostate cancer, eye cataracts and other problems associated with old age for some years now,” the official said.
“If you are close to him you would have noticed by now that compared to the past few years he currently has reduced reflexes and co-ordination and serious difficulty with balance. That is why his wife (Grace) always keeps very close to him in public these days just in case he falls.
“He also has decreased visual acuity or sight and apparently some hearing complications. His legs are sometimes swollen, making it painful for him to walk.”
Every year when he goes for his annual holidays in the Far East, Mugabe passes through Parkway Eye Centre at Gleneagles Hospital in Singapore which offers hormonal therapy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery to prostate cancer patients. Over the past few years Mugabe has been shuttling to Singapore, suggesting serious health problems even though officially he is only said to be suffering from eye cataracts.
“If you saw the photos of him and his family posted on social media during the festive holidays, you would have noticed how frail and unwell he looked. It’s due to old age and poor health,” a close aide said.
“Age and health problems have caught up with the old man. He may give the appearance of being sprightly in public, but he is now very vulnerable such that his medical team is always close by, especially when he has a tight schedule. His fall on Wednesday was, therefore, not surprising at all.”
Insiders insist that Mugabe had a prostate cancer laser operation in Singapore while on annual vacation last year despite official denials, after which he went to recuperate in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, before coming back home.
The operation was reportedly done before Christmas, giving him enough time to recover.
They say this was partly the reason why he delayed coming back home, besides that his wife was also operated on as he confirmed upon his return.
Mugabe has previously tripped up and fallen, at one time in Malaysia where he hurt his eye after the tumble.
Pictures of him falling and on his knees on Wednesday went viral on social media, re-igniting debate about his fitness to continue ruling.
“Look, for his age he is still relatively strong, but the real question is: is he fit to govern? I don’t think he is because there are so many indications he can no longer cope with his demanding duties, taxing schedules and attendant pressures,” another official said. “That’s why there are no other heads of state and government of his age anywhere in the world. It’s because no one can defy the laws or realities of old age and mortality.”
Mugabe’s spin-doctors have since Wednesday been working overdrive to contain the domino effect of his dramatic fall as the situation increasingly deteriorates amid intense denials which are sometimes contradicted by his physical appearances, hospital shuttles and incidents like the one this week.
Presidential spokesman George Charamba, who last week denied that the president had an operation in Singapore, stating he had gone on an annual review of his eyes, yesterday said his boss was fine and energetic as he reported for duty at his Munhumutapa offices at 9:30am.
“Today (yesterday), as he got off his car, I snatched a short conversation with him at the foyer of the Munhumutapa Building,” said Charamba in a statement. “Are you okay, Cde President?’
“‘Why?’ (light heartedly).
“After yesterday’s incident?
“‘I am ok, it was just a slip’.”
Charamba said he accompanied Mugabe, together with his security aides and staff, “up a flight of stairs, and then to the cabinet room” for a meeting.
“He walked unaided all the time,” he said. While Charamba wants to paint a picture of a Mugabe a decade ago or so, the president no longer energetically runs up the steps while boarding a plane as he used to do, showing he has lost his fitness and energy to do so.
“The reality is that Mugabe is increasingly frail due to old age and health problems. As a result, his power and influence are diminishing as he continues to lose control of Zanu PF and government,” one official said.
“Remember, he publicly admitted at congress last year in December that his wife has filled in a vacuum around him and she is running the show at home and now in the party.
That’s why she was giving instructions in public at congress. This poses a serious threat to the stability of Zanu PF and the country because Mugabe is no longer really in charge.”