Africa, Politics

Mugabe’s cancer spreads: is the nightmare’s end in sight for Zimbabwe?

By Simon Allison 6 September 2011

Bob’s sick, and despite indications to the contrary it’s not syphilis (or not just syphilis). Unconfirmed Wikileaks cables indicate that the Zimbabwean president has prostate cancer, and it’s spread. If true, this means he’s not much longer for this world, and might go some way to explaining why Zanu’s been so fractious recently. By SIMON ALLISON.

The latest round of Wikileaks revelations include the sensational claim that Robert Mugabe is suffering from prostate cancer, and that doctors think he could be starring in his own his state funeral anytime between now and 2013.

Before everyone gets too excited, a few reservations should be expressed. The claims were made in 2008 by the governor of Zimbabwe’s Reserve Bank, Gideon Gono, in comments made to the US Ambassador to Harare. Gono is a Zanu-PF stalwart, close to Robert Mugabe, and his comments haven’t been independently verified; Gono has denied them outright. The story first broke in the pages of Zimbabwe’s Sunday Mail, a government mouthpiece not known for its absolute commitment to the truth. And because this cable is apparently part of the tranche of unredacted cables released accidentally last week, it’s difficult to verify whether it’s a genuine cable at all.

According to the leaked diplomatic cable, “President Robert Mugabe has prostate cancer that has metastasised [spread] and, according to doctors will cause his death in three to five years.” Written in 2008, this would put Mugabe’s estimated time of death somewhere between 2011 and 2013. This would account for Mugabe’s frequent medical trips to Singapore, which have been previously explained away as surgery for the president’s cataracts or to accompany his wife Grace after she hurt her back.

The new revelations don’t end there. Apparently, Gono – who was in a talkative mood – also claimed that Mugabe was obsessed with staying longer in office than retired Zambian president and nemesis Kenneth Kaunda, who lasted 27 years. He achieved this feat in 2009. But he was also very worried about ensuring an orderly handover of power, and looked in an unlikely direction for guidance: “(Mugabe) agreed with Tony Blair on one thing – the time to step down was after leading one’s party to victory, thereafter giving it time to consolidate before the next election,” said a US diplomat in the cable, paraphrasing Gono.

True or not, the timing of the claims is interesting. First, as Judy Smith-Hohn, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies told the Daily Maverick, you have to question why such a potentially explosive cable, of obvious interest, was left out of the first round of Wikileaks releases. Why would it not have been leaked earlier? It’s also interesting that the claims come so soon after Mugabe’s somewhat controversial announcement of the timing of the next elections; an announcement which didn’t please certain factions within his party.

Then there’s the means by which the claims were released. Zimbabwe’s state-owned Sunday Mail is a Zanu-PF mouthpiece, with little scope for independent journalism, and none whatsoever when it comes to news about the president himself. This means someone in the party – someone high enough to have sufficient authority – either okayed or planted the story. Was it Mugabe? It seems unlikely that he would have encouraged a story which portrays him as weak and near his end, except as some kind of Machiavellian double bluff to confuse his opponents (and suitors). Or was it one of the factions fighting to succeed him? Perhaps the one led by Vice-President Joice Mujuru, fighting for its political future after the death of kingmaker Solomon Mujuru under suspicious circumstances. Or the one headed by Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, unhappy that the president ignored pressure to hold early elections this year.

Either way, the elections scheduled for March 2012 and its aftermath are set to be an almighty tussle for the future of Zimbabwe as Zanu fights for control of the post-Mugabe era. Not that Mugabe’s necessarily finished yet, not by any means; divide and conquer is his favourite method of asserting control, and the party infighting might be exactly what he’s trying to achieve in order to keep a firm grip on his own power. But as Zanu fragments, and its internal problems surface more publicly, their uneasy partners in government and bitter opposition the MDC will be hoping they, rather than Mugabe, might be able to conquer the divisions.

Not that the MDC is perfect on the unity front. Already the party’s officially separated into two smaller parties, with two different leaders: Morgan Tsvangirai for MDC-T and Welshmen Ncube for MDC-M. And more supposed Wikileaks cables released recently in Zimbabwe’s state-run daily The Herald appear to show the problems go even deeper than that. According to the cables, MDC bigwigs and prominent Tsvangirai supporters Roy Bennet and Tendai Biti were both critical of Tsvangirai’s leadership and decision-making in the wake of the post-election violence which erupted after the presidential elections of 2008. Bennet is alleged to have said that Tsvangirai “does what the last person tells him to do”, while Biti is reported to have his eyes firmly on taking over Tsvangirai’s position.

Confusing and dangerous times ahead for Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans can only hope that whatever happens, it will be an improvement on three decades of Mugabe’s cancerous rule. DM

Read more:

  • Mugabe ‘has prostate cancer’: Wikileaks on TimesLIVE;
  • Mugabe obsessed with outlasting Kaunda on New Zimbabwe;
  • MDC-T Top Brass mocks Tsvangirai in Zimbabwe’s The Herald.

Photo: Reuters.


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