EVIDENCE that President Robert Mugabe is experiencing mounting health problems, fuelled by old-age complications, is all the more becoming hard to deny as his hospital shuttles increase as shown by further disclosures he was in Singapore this week for three days for medical reasons.
REPORT BY FAITH ZABA
This comes hardly a week after he passed through the exclusive Gleneagles Hospital in Singapore — which treats eye and cancer problems — on his way to Japan for a conference. Mugabe left ahead of his delegation to pass through Singapore on his way to Japan last week.
Official sources say he then left Japan on Monday for Singapore where he was until yesterday. Part of his delegation returns home today around midday.
Latest developments come as new information indicates that he might be back in Singapore soon for more medicals. Over the past few years, Mugabe has been shuttling to Singapore for health reasons, suggesting he has serious medical problems with metastasized prostate cancer and eye cataracts being reported as the ailments.
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Mugabe — now an absentee president — is expected to go to Windhoek either today or tomorrow for the inauguration of new Namibian President Hage Geingob, as well as celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of that country’s independence on March 21.
After Namibia and another expected trip to Singapore, Mugabe, who chairs both the African Union and Sadc, is also expected to attend an African Union meeting which will coincide with the African Development Bank (AfDB) annual general meeting in May in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, where the new AfDB president will be elected and the 50th anniversary of the bank marked.
Zimbabwean Thomas Zondo Sakala, who has worked with the bank for 31 years, is battling with seven other candidates from Ethiopia, Cape Verde, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Tunisia, Chad and Mali for the presidency of the multilateral institution.
Official sources say the irony of Mugabe’s attendance to the inauguration of new leaders in the region is now poignant. Geingob takes over from Hifikepunye Pohamba and will become the third Namibian president since its independence in 1990.
Mugabe, who has been in power for 35 years now, was recently in Zambia for newly-elected President Edgar Lungu’s inauguration. Lungu is Zambia’s sixth president since independence in 1964.
Besides Namibia and Zambia, other countries in the Sadc region which have been changing their leaders regularly include Mozambique, Botswana and South Africa. The trip to and from Japan via Singapore was Mugabe’s third this year to the Far East where he regularly seeks medical treatment, including his December annual vacation during which he reportedly underwent what was said to be a major prostate cancer operation at Parkway Cancer Centre at Gleneagles Hospital. He had to extend his stay in January to allow him time to recuperate for which he apologised upon his return.
His wife Grace also had an appendix operation, a third one in her life, during their holidays.
Mugabe’s old age and health problems have created a situation, now all too evident this year, in which he is often away from official duty either attending meetings or going for medical treatment.
Video footage of Mugabe, while he was in Japan at a United Nations disaster risk reduction conference, showed him rise unsteadily to his feet, holding his speech in his left hand and occasionally appearing to be using the wall to steady himself with the right hand. His steps were slow and laboured as he made his way to the podium with an aide closely following behind.
Mugabe seemed to struggle up the stairs to the podium, clutching tightly to the rails of the staircase in order to steady himself and at one point he was hand-held by a lady who appeared to be a UN official. His aide had to walk closely behind him and sometimes appeared to support him from behind as he made his way up the staircase.
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Lately, Mugabe has apparently shown signs of old age, ill-health and frailty. At his 91st birthday celebrations three weeks ago in Victoria Falls, he looked absent-minded, frail and dazed.
His close security aides had to stick very close to him to prevent another possible public embarrassment like the tumble at the Harare International Airport a month ago. At the birthday bash, as many as 10 security aides could be seen around him and on at least three occasions Mugabe appeared to stagger only to regain his balance.
For the Japanese trip, he travelled with a large entourage of almost 100 people, gobbling almost US$1 million. Media reports indicate half of the entourage were his security aides.
Already this year, Mugabe has had several foreign trips, including his extended vacation in Singapore in January; went to the AU summit in Ethiopia; returned to Singapore for a medical in February; was in Zambia for the inauguration of Lungu in early February; and travelled to South Africa late February for a Sadc meeting on Lesotho before going to Japan last week. This all happening while the economy tailspins and people suffer from consequences of his misrule at home.