What is the state of Robert Mugabe’s health? The honest answer is that I don’t really know.
But over the weekend, the internet seemed far more certain. He was “gravely ill”, “close to death”, apparently.
Some news sites came close to killing off the Zimbabwean strongman.
The speculation began with an article in a Harare-based newspaper, the Zimbabwe Mail, which claimed that unnamed members of the Mugabe family had raced to Singapore where he is “battling for his life”.
The claims were repeated, re-tweeted and rehashed around the world. Twitter echoed to the sounds of commentators salivating over the possibility of analysing the implications of ‘the death of a dictator’.
Even his most loyal supporters would admit, perhaps reluctantly, that 88-year old Mugabe will not live forever. And speculation about his health has grown since a Wikileaks cable was released last year claiming that the president has prostate cancer.
But ministers are dismissing these rumours, with one describing them as “hogwash”. When I asked another about the President’s whereabouts this morning, he responded: “I don’t ask these questions about the Queen.”
However, with little official information, credible-sounding gossip often rises to the top. And when rumours circulate about the Zimbabwean president, it is as important to be aware of those trying to undermine him as those attempting to promote him.
We know, for sure, that the trip was planned some time ago. Last month, a Government official told me that the president would be “away for the Easter” to visit his daughter, who is studying in the Far East, and would return in time for the country’s Independence Day on April 18th.
Many will say that he has used this visit to Asia, and many before it, to receive medical treatment, and that there has been political chaos in the president’s absence.
Another theory is that Mugabe’s enemies, in politics and the press, have started and spread the rumours to undermine him and destabilise his party ahead of upcoming elections. If that is the case, he may yet emerge from the mist of the rumour mill in the coming days looking rather well. We will see.