PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe last week spent four days in Singapore— the second time he has been in the Asian enclave inside three weeks amid growing concerns over his health — although his handlers insisted the veteran politician had taken a direct flight to Japan on government business.
According to government officials and the State media, Mugabe left Harare headed for Japan for a five-day State visit at the invitation of that country’s Premier Shinzo Abe on March 23, but curiously made a four-day unofficial stopover in Singapore, prompting questions from his critics.
Mugabe turned 92 on February 21, but insists he will be the Zanu PF candidate for the 2018 presidential elections when he would be 94, despite his failing health and age.
The former guerilla leader sneaked out of the country in the second week of March under the pretext that he was to attend the low-key World Cultural Festival in India, but ended up in Singapore before inexplicably aborting the Indian excursion.
Details of his latest trip as shown on flightradar24, an aircraft tracking site, indicated Mugabe departed Harare International Airport on Wednesday March 23 at 12:05am and arrived at Singapore’ Changi International Airport 10 hours later at 10:15am aboard Air Zimbabwe Flight UM1 Boeing 767- 2 NO (ER), registration Z-WPF.
Mugabe’s stopover in Singapore, which has become his favourite destination for reported medical treatment, lasted four days before his departure for Japan, where he, according to State media reports, has a packed programme for the next three days.
The Zanu PF leader left Singapore on Sunday March 27 at 09:55am and arrived at Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport at 15:50pm after a six-hour flight across the Pacific Ocean.
State media yesterday reported Mugabe had a “busy schedule” during his visit to Japan, with “more than 13 engagements”, that include meetings with Abe, industrialists as well as Emperor Akihito.
But main opposition MDC-T spokesperson Obert Gutu said his party was not amused by Mugabe’s choice of Singapore for medical treatment instead of local institutions.
“The Zanu PF regime has run down the health delivery system in Zimbabwe through decades of neglect, misallocation of resources and rampant corruption,” Gutu said.
“The ruling elite no longer patronise local hospitals when they are in need of medical treatment. They prefer seeking medical treatment in South Africa, Dubai,India and Singapore because they know that local hospitals are ill-equipped. President Robert Mugabe should be ashamed of himself for running down a country that used to be the jewel of Africa.
Mugabe and his regime have left a legacy of grinding poverty and destitution for the majority of the people.”
People’s Democratic Party secretary general Gorden Moyo said Mugabe was literally enjoying his pension on the job.
“All these unwarranted trips are suffocating the already depressed economy.
Mugabe has become a liability to this country. He is gifting himself with these endless trips as part of his pension package.
He has remembered that if he dies in office, there is no chance of enjoying a pension. Mugabe is now a pensioner in office, Zimbabweans must punish him and his associates in Zanu PF come the next elections,” Moyo said.
Since January this year, Mugabe has been to the Far East three times already and by the time he returns from Japan, the veteran ruler would have added another 16 000km flying hours to his growing resume as a “frequent flyer”.
The Welshman Ncube-led MDC’s spokesperson, Kurauone Chihwayi, urged Mugabe to “park at home”.
“Mugabe is insensitive to the plight of the poor and hungry in the country. It is high time he stopped splurging public funds on useless trips and the MDC is calling on Mugabe to park at home and shut up,” Chihwayi said.
Last year alone, Mugabe gobbled over $50 million on foreign trips, with little tangible benefits to the national economy despite State media going to town to celebrate so-called mega-deals with China, India and Russia that have yielded nothing so far.
Mugabe’s trips to Asia have increased in frequency with each passing year as his failing health takes its toll.