MDC MPS should save Mugabe from Zanu (PF)

Ambassadorial cables from Zimbabwe to the United States exposed by Wikileaks contain details about the state of President Robert Mugabe’s heath which are of concern to all those seized with the nation’s crisis.

Mugabe sleeping at a conference
Mugabe sleeping at a conference

In the past, these rumours have been dismissed by Zanu (PF) officials as politicking by detractors. The significance of the cables is that they reveal that close confidantes of Mugabe and his wife, such as Gideon Gono, also believe that Mugabe is suffering from prostate cancer.

Despite Gono’s denials, it is highly unlikely that the ambassador would have fabricated the disclosures. A further cable suggests additional ailments, including “periodic convulsions and stroke-like episodes (perhaps ischemia) brought on by diabetes and a lipid disorder which affects the covering of the brain”.

The questions around Mugabe’s health can no longer be brushed aside. The most important of these is whether Mugabe may reasonably be said to be capable of effectively performing his onerous and multiple duties as Head of State, Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces and Head of Government.

Mugabe’s self discipline and ascetic life style are legendary. The picture that emerges is of a frail and ill man in the last years of his life pushing himself beyond the limits of normal human endurance. Zanu (PF) is forcing him to endure considerable pain for the selfish reason of their own survival.

Moral reasons

For moral, and not political reasons, Members of Parliament across the political divide should recognize the past contributions Mugabe has made in leading Zimbabwe to independence, and save him from selfish political party cadres. The mechanism to do this is set out in section 29(3) of the Constitution, which says a parliamentary committee may be established to enquire into the president’s health and to consider whether he is fit to carry out his duties.

While a two-thirds majority of both Houses is required to give effect to a recommendation of retirement, the joint committee may be established upon the request of only one-third of the members of the House of Assembly. This means that cross party support is not required to initiate the process.

There is certainly enough evidence in the public domain to indicate that an inquiry into the health of the President is necessary. If Zanu (PF) MPs are too concerned with their own survival to act appropriately, MDC MPs should take the initiative and save Mugabe from them in the interests of common decency and basic humanity.

Cancer symptoms

Where prostate cancer is non-aggressive, it difficult to detect. Mugabe thus could have suffered from this for many years before any adverse effects began to reveal themselves. However, where the disease is advanced, several common symptoms manifest themselves. Those relating to urinary and erectile problems remain in the private domain of the sufferer, but other symptoms become evident to observers, particularly where the cancer metastasizes and spreads to other parts of the body. Wikileaks indicates this so in Mugabe’s case, with Jonathan Moyo suggesting that he also has cancer of the throat.

Most commonly, prostate cancer will spread to nearby femur bones and the pelvic and spinal region. This causes severe pain and the sufferer often experiences enormous fatigue. Mugabe has shown signs of suffering from all these symptoms. Press reports over the last few years accord with the Wikileaks disclosures.

All Zimbabweans with access to the independent media recall the images from the SADC summit in Zambia early in 2011 of a knock-kneed Mugabe clinging weakly for support onto a golf cart which had been provided as his legs could not carry him the short distance to his awaiting limousine.

Mugabe asleep

Furthermore, although those of an advanced age have an increased need to sleep in the day time, Mugabe seems unable to stay awake for any extended period when he is not moving about. If one Googles “Mugabe + Sleep” some 187 000 hits emerge with embarrassing tag lines such as “Mugabe asleep at….” conference X or Y.

Tendai Biti, the Minister of Finance, reported that Mugabe was unable to stay awake during an important two hour meeting. Even when awake, pictures tend to show him slumping in his seat, a characteristic of prostate cancer sufferers who attempt to deal with the pain in the pelvic area when sitting.

Despite denials by his officials, it seems clear that Mugabe’s six visits to Singapore (at a cost of some $18 million) have been to seek medical attention. During one visit he was seen at a medical centre specializing in treating cancer sufferers. Although Mugabe’s spokesman claimed that the frequency of Cabinet meetings would be increased in order to make up for lost time, the opposite has happened, with an instruction issued to Ministers to ensure that Cabinet meetings do not last longer than two hours in order to cater for Mugabe’s infirmities.

Urinary problems

At least one Cabinet meeting has been abandoned by Mugabe and handed to Tsvangirai to chair when Mugabe had to leave the room suddenly, suggesting the possibility of urinary problems. Mugabe’s medical specialists have reportedly taken up residence with the Mugabes in order to be immediately available and on call 24/7. Grace’s frustration with Mugabe’s health and ability to perform his duties emerges in a cable where Gono informs the ambassador that she told him Mugabe is “out of it 75% of the time”.

It is possible that Mugabe receives steroid treatment ahead of important state occasions in order to function adequately while in the public eye. However, an embarrassing example of Mugabe’s inability to function effectively for an extended period and tendency to become disorientated if not allowed to rest emerged at the SADC summit in South Africa in June this year when he referred to President Zuma as President Mandela, and when noticing the mistake sought to correct himself with the supplication that the soul of the very much alive Mandela rest in peace.

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