Mugabe health rumours spread

The internet was awash yesterday with a new flurry of claims that Robert Mugabe was gravely ill surfaced yesterday amid reports that the long-serving Zimbabwean president had secretly agreed to a succession deal that would see him hand over power to his defence minister, Emmerson Mnangagwa.

 Robert Mugabe
Robert Mugabe

Quoting unconfirmed reports originating in Zimbabwe, The Australian newspaper reported on its website that Mugabe, 88, was ''fighting for his life'' in a Singaporean hospital with an undisclosed illness.

Mugabe was said to be undergoing intensive treatment at the hospital.

Some members of his family, including his wife, were reported to have boarded a chartered private plane on Saturday to join him.

The reports appear to have been sparked by the postponement of a cabinet meeting set for today. The meeting will now take place on Thursday and Mugabe will be present, his spokesman, George Charamba, has insisted.

Mugabe was ''ostensibly'' in Singapore to oversee enrolment in a postgraduate course at Singapore University for his daughter, Bona.

A June 2008 US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks recently said Mugabe had prostate cancer that had spread to other organs. He was said to have ignored the advice of a doctor in 2008 to step down. Last year he visited Singapore eight times to consult his doctors.

Rumours are rife that Mugabe has struck a secret "gentleman's agreement" to hand over power to Emmerson Mnangagwa, the defence minister.

Insiders say Mugabe will stand as Zanu (PF)'s candidate in elections one last time before handing over to Mnangagwa, a former spy chief nicknamed "The Crocodile" for his ruthless reputation.

In the clearest sign yet that he is being groomed for the top job, Mnangagwa, 65, was recently dispatched to Teheran, where he met Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a key ally.

Mnangagwa, former head of Zimbabwe's Central Intelligence Organisation, was appointed campaign manager by Mugabe in the 2008 presidential election and was widely blamed for the brutality unleashed after Zanu (PF) rival Morgan Tsvangirai edged ahead in the first round of voting.

Mnangagwa helped to orchestrate Mugabe's battle against white rule in the 1970s, during which he was arrested and tortured, rendering him deaf in one ear.

In later years he has been seen as Zanu-PF's chief "money man", helping organise lucrative concessions linked to gold and diamond mining.

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