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Original caption: President of Zimbabwe Robert...

Robert Gabriel Mugabe, Is he still fit to run the country?

Is Mugabe fit for another term?
By Reagan Mashavave, Staff Writer
Friday, 18 March 2011 18:53

HARARE – With general elections looming in Zimbabwe, the question of who will lead the country for the next five years – and whether President Robert Mugabe, aged and plagued by health problems, can viably continue to contest for power – has become a burning issue among Zimbabweans.

The field of aspirant leaders in that ballot is indeed wide and varied: from the long-ruling Mugabe, to Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai, to the likes of Welshman Ncube, Dumiso Dabengwa, Job Sikhala, et al.

Speaking to the Daily News this week, in the wake of Zanu PF’s nomination of Mugabe as the party’s choice of national leader for the elections, medical experts said at his advanced age of 87, and with health concerns around him mounting, it was advisable that Mugabe stepped down now.

Political analysts also raised the same sentiment, expressing fears that Mugabe was now being manipulated by hardliners in Zanu PF, who were now perceived to be effectively running the country.

Speculation around Mugabe’s state of health has intensified recently after Mugabe criss-crossed the Indian Ocean, to Singapore, three times in the past month, for what his spokesperson George Charamba said was for “a minor cataract operation”.

However, diplomats, doctors and Zanu PF insiders said that it appeared certain that Mugabe had more serious health problems – which was normal for people of Mugabe’s age.

Mugabe himself admitted at his televised birthday bash two weeks ago that his body was now spent, although his mind remained sharp.

The medical experts who spoke to the Daily News said cataract operations were simple procedures which did not require one to travel all the way to Singapore for reviews, adding that if Mugabe was indeed suffering from a
more serious health condition then it was advisable for him to take it easy and retire.

One of Zimbabwe’s leading eye surgeons, Dr Solomon Guramatunhu, recently told the international media that after a cataract operation, it took a few hours before one could be able to use the affected eye again.

A local doctor, who understandably preferred anonymity, said that anyone aged 87 would be prone to different kinds of afflictions such as prostate cancer. He added that common diseases which were normally easy to treat in people who were younger became difficult to treat in 87-year-olds.

“Dementia and amnesia are also very common at this age,” the doctor said.

University of Zimbabwe lecturer and political analyst, John Makumbe, it was common cause that the country was now being run by the military under the Joint Operations Command (JOC). Mugabe was now merely there to rubber-stamp and implement their decisions.
“He (Mugabe) is now a liability to the nation. He is no longer in charge. He is now like a wall flower. JOC is the one which is in charge. Mugabe is no longer capable of running the country. He is not in good health, so it is
left with others to run the country” Makumbe said.

“Zanu PF can endorse Mugabe to be a candidate all they like, but he will lose as he did in 2008 (March elections). He will still lose any coming election. Zanu PF is free to endorse him again but they must know that he will lose to Morgan Tsvangirai and it will be left again to the securocrats to decide whether to hand over power or retain it like they did in 2008.”

National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) chairman Lovemore Madhuku said Mugabe should have retired two decades ago, adding that the normal retirement age was 65 years.

“There is no doubt that at 87 years he should retire. It is clear and there is no question about that. The person at that age must rest. It is not about me saying that. It is the nature of people when they are created by God, they
 get old and should rest,” Madhuku said.

“In Zimbabwe 65 years is the normal retirement age and for the judges it is 70 years. Even if the judge is sharp or bright, at 70 the law says they should retire. You cannot have 17 years above the maximum retirement age and still run the country.”

However, Zanu spokesperson Rugare Gumbo said the decision by the party to endorse Mugabe for another term, despite his advanced age, was reached by Zanu PF and no-one could change that.

“First of all the decision that he (Mugabe) runs for another term is decided by the party. The party saw it fit that he runs as a presidential candidate. The issue of who determines who runs is done by the party and not by  outsiders, full stop,” Gumbo said.

“The succession issue is also for the party to decide. It does not have to be decided by outsiders.”

In the meantime, it has been suggested repeatedly that Mugabe’s ill health and advanced age have intensified the battle for succession in Zanu PF – with camps linked to Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa and that of retired army general Solomon Mujuru – fighting to take control of the party.