Mugabe makes medical trip

2011-03-04 12:52

Zimbabwe’s leader of 30 years returned to Singapore for a medical check, his fourth visit there this year, his spokesperson said Friday, as questions about his health add to uncertainty about the country’s political future.

Presidential spokesperson George Charamba said today that President Robert Mugabe (87) left yesterday for a final examination after undergoing routine cataract surgery in Singapore in January. He is expected home on Sunday, state media reported today.

“There is nothing to cause any alarm” over Mugabe’s health, Charamba said.

At celebrations marking his birthday on February 21, an increasingly frail Mugabe said even if his body “may get spent”, his mind remained young and alert.

But seven weeks away in Asia since December – three of them his official yearly vacation – have fuelled doubts on the health of Zimbabwe’s authoritarian ruler since independence in 1980. Officials have dismissed reports he received treatment for prostate cancer.

Eldred Masunungure, director of Zimbabwe’s Mass Public Opinion Institute, said recent questions about Mugabe’s health added a measure of uncertainty, but that even if the elderly president were to die, his military-political machine would remain strong.

“The system is not going away if an individual dies,” added Susan Booysen, a South African pollster who analysed survey results released today that show Zimbabweans have grown more fearful of saying whom they would vote for, a sign Mugabe is rebounding politically after being forced to share power with his longtime rival two years ago.

Mugabe’s party lost the 2008 parliamentary elections, and he later entered into a unity government with longtime opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Zimbabweans still saw Mugabe as firmly in control though, in large part because of his security forces, according to the survey results.

The survey conducted late last year by Freedom House and the Mass Public Opinion Institute showed 75% of Zimbabweans believed Mugabe was solely or mainly in control, and 45% believed his Zanu-PF party had not ceded power.

As a measure of growing fear, the researchers found more Zimbabweans last year compared to 2009 were unwilling to say for whom they would vote if elections were held tomorrow – 42%, compared to 31%.

A representative sample of 1 200 people were surveyed face-to-face in November and December, and the margin of error was 2.8 points.

Masunungure attributed Mugabe’s resurgence to missteps by Tsvangirai and to the money that has flowed to Mugabe’s supporters since the discovery of diamonds.

He said that members of Tsvangirai’s party who joined the government “did not seem to realise the inclusive government is not a permanent arrangement”.

Mugabe called for elections this year to bring an end his coalition with Tsvangirai.

Mugabe left for Singapore soon after he launched a campaign for a “two-million signature” petition against Western economic sanctions targeting him and his supporters over a decade of alleged human-rights abuses in the southern African nation.

His rally drew 20 000 to Zimbabwe’s capital earlier this week, which Masunungure said was a mark of the growing confidence of Mugabe and Zanu-PF.

Witnesses said Mugabe militants went house-to-house and patrolled bus stops demanding support for the rally.

In a rambling 80-minute address, a defiant Mugabe threatened to seize foreign businesses in retaliation for the Western measures.

US ambassador to Zimbabwe Charles Ray today described the petition as a one-sided political campaign by Mugabe’s party “while others seeking the right to assemble, petition and demonstrate are arrested and tortured”.

He said about 120 Zimbabweans facing US visa, travel and financial bans were almost all Zanu-PF leaders who had a hand in political violence against fellow citizens.

He said violence, corruption and mismanagement – not the Western measures – led to the economic crisis.

Alec Muchadehama, a lawyer representing 45 people facing treason charges for allegedly plotting an Egyptian-style uprising in Zimbabwe, said the case showed how determined Mugabe’s supporters were to crush any dissent.

The group was arrested while watching videos of the Egyptian revolt during what organisers said was nothing more than a public discussion of current events.

Muchadehama and other Zimbabweans who gathered in neighbouring South Africa today to discuss the survey results said they were worried that after decades of facing violence and seeing little progress, dissidents were growing tired and discouraged.

Dumisani Nkomo, a democracy activist in the southwestern city of Bulawayo, said a sense of helplessness was behind the survey results that showed that Zimbabweans believed Mugabe was firmly in power, and predicted the military would take over if he were to die in office.

Nkomo said activists should emulate Mugabe’s party and formulate a plan should Mugabe die, beyond just “rejoicing for about a week”.

Nkomo said activists should reach out to soldiers and others within Mugabe’s structure who might be secret democrats. He also said opposition parties should form a coalition.

“We need to take charge, take the initiative,” Nkomo said.

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