Going by these statistics President Robert Mugabe who turns 87 next week has had a full circle of life. Any ailment at his age should surely elicit an emotional feeling of worry among the citizens of Zimbabwe.
For the first time, an official government statement has been issued concerning the health of the Head of State. For years Mugabe’s health has remained a closely guarded secret but last Sunday his spokesperson George Charamba felt compelled to update the nation for the first time on the state of his health. Whether this a genuine act of being duty bound is another matter but the fact that he did so for the first time is surely quite revealing as it comes barely a few weeks after the international media jerked the world to the news that the veteran leader was apparently not in the best health condition.
Charamba told a local state owned weekly newspaper that Mugabe had gone to Singapore for a medical review after undergoing a cataract operation there last month. This was despite the fact that Mugabe had dismissed reports of the surgery as “naked lies.”
A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye that affects sight, normally in older people, and can lead to blindness.
The state of health of a head of state anywhere in the world is a subject of public interest. During the United States presidential election campaign, John McCain fainted and his credentials as a possible future president was brought in the spotlight.
In Nigeria the country was in 2009 left guessing on what exactly was afflicting their late President Umaru Yar’Adua’s. For long he made unexplained trips between Lagos and Saudi Arabia for “medical review.” At one point he came back home at midnight in a hospital bed.
Nigerians were left asking what the president suffering from and who was in charge of the country’s affairs. The concerns were based on whether the President was suffering from a life threatening condition that makes it impossible for him to discharge his official duties effectively as his wife rather than he was handling government communication between him and his ministers.
These are probably the same questions that many Zimbabweans are asking themselves right now.
President Mugabe has been to the Far East twice in a space of about a month for “medical review.” Government business has been stalled as the cabinet met only once since business resumed in 2011. Mugabe chairs cabinet and although one of his vice presidents can do the job, cabinet business usually comes to a halt whenever he is not around.
His health has for long been a closely guarded secret but his ailments have been quite telling in recent times. His age is clearly forcing his physical being to give in although he remains largely in charge of his mental faculties. Last year pictures of him struggling to negotiate stairs at an African Union (AU) Summit in Uganda set tongues wagging.
In previous years such pictures have also been a common feature in international news. In 2008 he was captured struggling to climb up steep slopes at Gideon Gono’s Norton Farm. On that occasion he needed a helping hand from Swaziland’s King Mswati. Again at a rally in Shamva in 2008, a picture of his swollen right leg also created debate among Zimbabweans.
If Zimbabweans had their way they would have asked Mugabe to now step aside for the sake of his own health.
Mugabe is an avid sports person who takes a 30 minute jog every morning to keep fit and plays a bit of tennis. It
is also believed that he eats selectively, taking largely a variety of traditional foods and Chinese tea. He rarely eats at public gatherings and on occasions that he does he is usually seen taking moderated sips of fruit juices.
In most parts of the world the health of a sitting president is not an easy subject to unravel. In most of the cases they just die in power. In the United States Woodrow Wilson was incapacitated for 280 days and during that time his wife communicated to government officials from his bedside. Dwight Eisen-hower was incapacitated for 143 days by his first heart attack and later suffered a stroke. Ronald Reagan was incapacitated for 20 hours while undergoing surgery after suffering a gunshot wound in 1981.
There is a feeling among Zimbabweans that Mugabe’s health should be public knowledge because the nation’s fate is in his hands. However for some it’s much embarrassing that the president is being flown thousands of miles to the Far East for treatment when there are many specialists around like renowned eye surgeon, Dr Solomon Guramatunhu.