By Mthulisi Mathuthu
SW Radio Africa
15 May 2014
Barely a week after official threats to criminalize any discussion on President Robert Mugabe’s health, the ageing leader has flown out to Singapore with his aides, claiming yet again that he is due for a ‘routine eye check-up.’
In a statement, presidential spokesman George Charamba said Mugabe was going on a week-long ‘private visit’ during which he will undergo ‘a routine eye check-up following a recent procedure on the same.’
In February Charamba again claimed that his boss was going there for an eye check-up. He had given the same reason for another visit to the Asian country in June last year.
Despite these claims Mugabe’s visits to Singapore, including the one in November last year during which he attended his daughter Bona’s graduation, have often sparked speculation that he is under treatment for cancer. Suspicion that Mugabe is being treated for cancer was triggered by the 2010 WikiLeaks revelations that the then Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono had told US diplomats that Mugabe was suffering from the deadly disease and had less than five years to live.
Observers think that the recent threat by Presidential Affairs minister Didymus Mutasa, that government could criminalize discussion on both the succession issue and Mugabe’s health, indicate concern in the ruling party that their leader’s health is failing.
Zimbabwe Exiles Forum Director Gabriel Shumba said Mugabe’s latest visit will ‘certainly fuel more speculation’, especially coming just days after Mutasa’s threat. He said Mugabe’s continued visits to Singapore for treatment indicate that it was time for him to retire.
Shumba said if the government finally succeeds in criminalizing public discussions on both Mugabe’s health and the succession issue it will be in violation of the law. He said: ‘It is clearly a violation of people’ rights to express themselves if you give a directive that they should not talk about any topic. And the same applies to the issue of Mugabe’s health, because it is of serious public interest.’
He added: ‘For people to be able to analyze whether their government is doing its work efficiently and whether there is capacity in government to deliver on promises, discussion on the President’s condition is critical.’
Shumba said by attempting to gag the media and the public from investigating Mugabe’s condition, the government was taking a cue from the Chinese establishment which he said elevates public officials to ‘demigods.’
The speculation that Mugabe is being treated for an ailment other than an eye problem has over time also been fuelled by the fact that Mugabe has often returned from these alleged ‘routine eye check-ups’ in better physical shape and high spirits.
A few days before his birthday in February, Mugabe flew to Singapore amid speculation that his condition was serious, only to return in time to attend his 90th birthday ceremony, during which he was in a jovial mood.
It could be that Mugabe is not suffering from any specific ailment, but just the fact that he is old. Whatever anti-ageing treatment he is receiving in Singapore clearly works, for a short time, and then he has to go back for more.