Zimbabwean officials Tuesday brushed off a report that President Robert Mugabe was gravely ill, as a lengthy trip to Singapore stirred up rumors that he was receiving treatment abroad.
Rumors swirled this week after a Zimbabwean news outlet reported Sunday that "sources in government" had revealed that Mugabe was undergoing intensive treatment in Singapore. Information Minister Webster Shamu derided the claims, saying the 88-year-old leader wasn’t in any hospital.
"It's a lot of hogwash," Shamu told the Agence France-Presse news service. "This is not the first time we have heard these rumors. If anything like that had happened, we would have issued a statement."
Mugabe was said by state media to have left for Singapore at the end of March to help arrange the next phase of studies for his daughter Bona, who got her accounting degree last year. His absence aggravated some lawmakers who complained that the government was paralyzed by his absence.
"His absence is causing great uncertainty in the country," Promise Mkwananzi, an opposition party official, told the Standard. "Zimbabweans need to know what is happening with their president."
Mugabe's departure has added to the political strain in an already stressed country: He is now sharing power with his old opponents, but he wants elections to end the coalition government, one of several fissures in the fragile governing coalition.
Questions about how Mugabe is faring are perennial in Zimbabwe and have only grown more insistent after a 4-year-old diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks said the aging leader had prostate cancer that could lead to his death in "three to five years." Mugabe and his allies dismissed it as fiction.
"I have died many times. That’s where I have beaten Christ. Christ died once and resurrected once. I don’t know how many times I will die and resurrect," Mugabe joked with reporters in February.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe speaks to delegates at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in 2009 in Copenhagen. Credit: Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images.