via Bulawayo24 NEWS | Charamba speaks on Mugabe mystery 16 January 2014
President Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba yesterday said the 89-year-old leader was completing his annual leave at his Borrowdale home, quashing speculation that he had either died or was very ill.
Since Mugabe arrived last Friday from vacation, speculation has been rife on social media that all was not well with the veteran leader.
Speaking over the phone yesterday, Charamba said his boss remained on holiday until month-end so there was no need for the president to make a public appearance.
Charamba, said in a statement the president would spend the remainder of his leave in the country but made no reference to the health issue. Over the years, reports of Mr Mugabe’s failing health have been repeatedly confounded by public appearances where he has displayed remarkable physical form for a man of his age.
Charamba said Mugabe had not made a public appearance because he was still on his annual leave.
“I know for a fact that what has prompted your inquiry is the fact that there is a story on the (news) wires that if the president is alleged to have come back, why are they not using fresh images of him,” Charamba told the Daily News.
“It is not the responsibility of the presidential spokesperson to produce fresh images. That is a press function.”
He said it was the responsibility of media houses to dispatch reporters and photographers to cover the departure and arrival of the president.
But the independent media was not informed of his travel itinerary before he returned home, with Charamba only advising in December that Mugabe was due back in Harare mid-January.
“When the president left, I informed you and you took my word, when have we ever given you a picture to say he has left?” Charamba asked.
“Now the president comes back at around 6:30 pm, which we told you and now you want a picture? The president came back through the airport which is open to the public. He used the tarmac which is not a no-go area but newspapers did not come to take a picture.”
Asked how Mugabe, who makes frequent trips to the Far East ostensibly for cataract treatment was feeling, Charamba was non-committal.
“I do not know how he is. The president is still on leave and I am not obligated to go every morning to say Mr President, how is your limb,” he said, adding: “President Mugabe has the right to go on leave. It is a statutory right. It is a human right.”
Official sources said he had visited his rural home last weekend, and also visited his sister in hospital in Harare last week.
Mugabe traditionally takes his annual leave in January each year.
In a move that is raising eyebrows in Zimbabwe, Vice-President Joice Mujuru, the frontrunner to succeed 89-year-old President Robert Mugabe, will continue her unusually long stint as acting head of state until the end of this month.
This is understood to be the longest period that Ms Mujuru has served as acting president, having temporarily taken over last month. Mr Mugabe is on his annual leave but there has been speculation in social media about the state of his health since returning home from Singapore last weekend.
He turns 90 on February 21 and is serving his seventh term after he and the ruling Zanu-PF party scored landslide wins in last year’s general elections.
Zimbabwe’s internet mole, Baba Jukwa, kicked off the speculation about the president on Facebook, alleging that he was seriously ill. Zanu-PF officials trashed talk of Mr Mugabe’s ill health as “absolute nonsense” designed to cause “fear, alarm and despondency”.
But Zimbabweans noted the absence of any topical official pictures of the veteran ruler’s homecoming from his holiday break in the Far East. Instead state media used archive photographs in reports on Mr Mugabe’s return.
The Herald newspaper ran a picture of him returning from an African Union summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in January last year. The president was last seen in public on December 29, as he left for the Far East, and previously on December 22, while presiding over the unveiling of a statue in honour of the late vice-president, Joshua Nkomo, in Bulawayo.
Ordinary people in Harare, Bulawayo and other cities went about their business as normal yesterday, unfazed by the chatter on social media platforms.
Award-winning author Petina Gappah, who has relocated to Harare, wrote on her Facebook page: “OK. I am now getting worried.
“I have foreign news agencies writing to ask me to prepare some ‘reflections on Mr Mugabe ‘ and they want this in the next two weeks. What is happening to my President? Where is he?”
David Coltart – a former education, sport, arts and culture minister in the coalition government that ended last July – wrote on Facebook : “I think the most telling thing was the Herald’s attempt to dupe the public by printing last year’s photo, but against that we know there have been so many reports in the past that one should treat this with caution.
“I think we will know when he is in serious trouble, because I suspect that tension in the military will rise dramatically – something I have not sensed thus far.”