Rumours of Robert Mugabe's failing health gather pace as he misses cabinet meeting


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The Independent Online

Rumours that Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is gravely ill are intensifying after he missed last week's cabinet meeting and the one due today was cancelled.

President Mugabe, 88, is officially in Singapore dealing with arrangements around his daughter Bona's postgraduate studies.

But opposition media, including The Zimbabwe Mail and The Standard, have questioned whether the president would realistically handle his daughter's university enrolment in person.

He is reported to have left Zimbabwe on 30 March. Last Tuesday's cabinet meeting was cancelled, as was a special Politburo gathering last week.

The president's spokesman, George Charamba, was not responding to phone calls last night. But in a statement quoted by local media he said: ''The Chief Secretary to the president and cabinet, Dr Misheck Sibanda, wishes to inform all members of the cabinet that sitting has been moved from Tuesday 10 April to Thursday 12 April 2012."

Speculation around President Mugabe's health has increased since WikiLeaks last year released a cable from 2008 saying the president has prostate cancer which has spread to other organs.

But people who have met the president recently, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, have remarked on his apparent good health. A minister who met him shortly before his departure to the Far East told The Independent he looked in "his usual good shape''. President Mugabe is believed to receive most of his medical treatment in Malaysia and Singapore and he spent part of his annual leave in those countries in December and January.

Early last year, it was rumoured that President Mugabe was unwell and had travelled to Singapore, only for it to emerge that it was his 46-year-old wife, Grace, who had received medical attention.

Neither of Zimbabwe's two vice-presidents nor Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, aged 60, are permitted to chair the cabinet.

Since 2009, Mr Tsvangirai's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has been part of a unity government with President Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF). But the MDC has been largely sidelined by the ruling party.

In President Mugabe's absence last week, Mr Tsvangirai attempted to organise a high-level cross-party meeting billed as a council of ministers. But it was cancelled after Zanu-PF ministers accused the MDC of trying to hijack the cabinet.