from Africa in Transition

Robert Mugabe’s Health

December 5, 2011

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Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (R) listens as Finance Minister Tendai Biti delivers his budget speech in parliament in Harare November 24, 2011 (Philimon Bulawayo/Courtesy Reuters)
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (R) listens as Finance Minister Tendai Biti delivers his budget speech in parliament in Harare, November 24, 2011. (Philimon Bulawayo/Courtesy Reuters)

Succession issues are dominating Zimbabwean domestic politics. The ruling party, ZANU-PF, is holding its eleventh annual non-elective conference in Bulawayo this week, and the media expects that party functionaries will be positioning themselves for a post-Robert Mugabe Zimbabwe.

Mugabe’s health is a state secret, but, according to WikiLeaks, members of his inner circle say he has prostate cancer. He has been making visits to  Singapore for what the media identifies as radiation treatments. Born in 1924, he certainly appears to be in failing health. The press reports that at an October 31 cabinet meeting, he could stay awake for only twenty minutes. However, Mugabe denies that he is seriously ill, and his disciples recall that his mother lived to be more than one hundred years of age.

Some in the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) are trying to make Mugabe’s foreign medical expenses a political issue. Last week, one of them said Mugabe should seek treatment at home: “He is the one who destroyed our medical facilities since 1980 and his destruction of medical facilities must not lead Zimbabwe to splash millions on his illness.” However, the MDC party leader and current prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai has said it is the government’s responsibility to pay for Mugabe’s medical expenses.

Some ZANU-PF factions want Zimbabwe’s next election, which must occur before March 2013, to be held while Mugabe can still be the ZANU-PF presidential candidate. His vice presidential running mate would then be his heir apparent. If, however, Mugabe were to die suddenly and before the elections, factional infighting within ZANU-PF could spin out of control. One of the chief faction leaders is Joice (or Joyce) Mujuru, currently the vice president and widow of Solomon Mujuru, who commanded Mugabe’s soldiers during the pre-independence guerrilla war and who died (or was killed) under suspicious circumstances in August 2011. Another is Emerson Mnangagwa, at present minister of defense and often identified as the richest man in Zimbabwe.

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Sub-Saharan Africa

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