President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe turned 90 yesterday. He was in Singapore on a medical trip that has deepened concerns about his health.
When Mr Mugabe left for Singapore this week, his press secretary, George Charamba, maintained the official denial of reports that Africa’s oldest president was suffering from prostate cancer, saying the trip was for a “routine and long-planned” cataract operation.
Mr Charamba assured Zimbabweans that his boss would be back for his official birthday celebrations on Sunday, but the timing of the trip has fuelled speculation that Mr Mugabe’s health is failing.
In an interview with state television, the President’s claim to be “as fit as a fiddle” was belied by his slow speech and puffy appearance.
“I know he’s a very old man and we should not expect him to look like a 25-year-old boxing champion or rugby player, but it’s exactly for that reason that he should be retiring,” a 50-year-old currency trader said after seeing the interview.
Like many Zimbabweans commenting on their leader’s long tenure, he did not want his name to appear in print.
A US diplomatic cable from June 2008, published by WikiLeaks, said Mr Mugabe had prostate cancer that was spreading, and that his doctor had urged him to stand down.
Instead, his election victory last year gave him another five years in power. He says this will allow him to quell factional fighting in his Zanu-PF party over who will one day fill his shoes.