Robert Mugabe 'wasn't sleeping at conference, he was protecting his eyes', claims Zimbabwe leader's spokesman

93-year-old Zimbabwean president in Singapore for eye treatment 

Chloe Farand
Thursday 11 May 2017 16:14 BST

Robert Mugabe is not asleep when he closes his eyes for prolonged periods of times in public events but is protecting his eyes from the bright lights, his spokesman has said.

The 93-year-old Zimbabwean president, who was part of a discussion panel during a meeting at the World Economic Forum in South Africa last week, was spotted with his eyes closed. I was the latest in a string of public appearances during in which observers have suggested he was sleeping.

"The President cannot suffer bright lights. If you look at his poise, he looks down, avoids direct lighting,” his spokesman George Charamba told the state-run Herald newspaper.

Mr Mugabe, who has ruled over Zimbabwe for 30 years and struggles to walk unaided, is in Singapore to receive specialised treatment for his eyes.

Despite regular medical visits, Mr Charamba said his general health was good.

“I feel like a failure when there is this reading that the President is sleeping in conferences, no," he said.

Mr Charamba compared Mr Mugabe to Nelson Mandela, whose eyes became sensitive to flash photography after year of working in a limestone quarry.

"You were not allowed to even use flashes whenever he was in the room," he said.

Defending Mr Mugabe’s medical trip to Singapore, which has drawn criticism given the collapse of the country's system due to economic hardship, the spokesman said the physician looking after the president’s eyes was Zimbabwean and “very, very, very black”.

“The President goes to Singapore for a very specific problem which has to do with the level of sophistication of medical skills that we have developed. You meet first world leaders there who are coming for medical assistance in Singapore,” he said.

Mr Charamba said the medical provision in Zimbabwe was “excellent” and that Mr Mugabe was only going abroad for specialised treatment.

Mr Mugabe intends to stand in next year’s presidential election.

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