Mugabe’s Singapore check-up downplayed

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe went to Singapore for a medical check-up last week, a local privately-owned newspaper reported on Sunday, saying it was the seventh such visit this year by the 87-year-old who denied he was suffering from cancer.

Mugabe’s officials were unavailable for immediate comment but the weekly Standard newspaper quoted Information and Publicity Minister Webster Shamu as saying Mugabe — in power since independence from Britain in 1980 — was in Singapore for a review of eye cataract surgery he had earlier this year.

“He went for a review following an eye operation he had earlier on. He will be back tomorrow [Sunday],” the newspaper quoted him as saying, without giving details.

In an interview with Reuters a year ago, Mugabe dismissed rumours of ill health, laughing off suggestions that he was dying of cancer and had recently suffered a stroke.

According to a United States diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, Mugabe has prostate cancer that has spread to other organs and was urged by his physician to step down in 2008.

In the cable dated June 2008 and written by James D McGee, the former US ambassador in Harare, Zimbabwe’s Central Bank Governor Gideon Gono was cited as saying the cancer could lead to Mugabe’s death in three to five years.

“According to Gono, Mugabe’s doctor recommended he cut back on his activities,” the leaked cable said.

Gono has denied the WikiLeaks report.

Although there have been reports over the years that Mugabe’s health is failing, he and his officials have never confirmed that he has any serious ailment.

Mugabe, who was forced into a unity government with rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai after a disputed poll in 2008, is officially his Zanu-PF party’s presidential candidate for elections due by 2013.

Political analysts say Mugabe and his inner circle want an early election, fearing the veteran leader may not be able to cope with the demands of campaigning in two years’ time when he will be 89.

The analysts say there is also fierce infighting in his Zanu-PF party over his eventual successor.

Mugabe is Africa’s second-longest ruling leader, heading the country for 32 years in a rule marked by charges of genocide, national campaigns of brutality against his political opponents, electoral fraud and a racist pogrom to drive all the country’s 5 000 white farmers from their land.

Observers say his Zanu-PF party is facing unprecedented divisions caused by his health after he declared earlier this year that he intended to stand for another five-year term in elections expected within the next couple of years. His illness is regarded as an open secret with many top officials in his party insisting that he is incapable of running a campaign.

There are widespread fears that his death will result in an outbreak of violence within his party between the factions contending to succeed him. He has banned discussion of the issue of his succession. — Reuters, AFP, Sapa

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