ZIMBABWE – If Robert Mugabe is ill in Asia, or has died there, (the rumour has it he had a heart attack during his annual leave), then the Chinese working on his wife Grace’s luxurious new school building, don’t know. Nor do the police know anything unusual near her massive headquarters among the rocky Mazowe hills, about 30 km west of Harare. Nor do people on the street in central Harare.
But the rumours keep coming and growing in intensity including one that police are gathering up relatives of the Mugabe clan in South Africa.
Several people who heard the rumour which began about mid day on Tuesday this week say they have got some extra ‘Scotch’ in stock, “just in case,” said a former Zanu PF activist from his office in northern Harare.
Has Mugabe had a heart attack?
“Whaaaat?” said another usually alert person, who has access to several senior government personnel but had not logged into Zimbabwe’s ever active social media. “I don’t believe it,” he said. “This happens regularly, nearly every year,” he said.
“Aaaah, it’s not true,” said a security guard near the Mugabe’s blue-roofed mansion where the first family live, about 20 km north of the city centre. “We would know. Our office would tell us,” he said. “The police would tell us.”
A well-connected 35 year-old father of two, said: “It is because he is out the country, and these days we are used to hearing about Grace almost every day. And so now that is quiet because they are out of the country.
“I think this year we will see him in a wheel chair, with Grace pushing him around, as she said this is what she will do. But it is his birthday next month. He will be 92, so we should know it will happen in quite a short time.”
All agreed however, that however frail Mugabe looks, he is alert, is in control of his mind, and for a man his age, is remarkably fit. The few falls he had in the last year, recently were minor, and mostly because he tripped up, rather then fell, and he is in full control of the country, his army and, probably, his wife, as one cynic said in a supermarket not far from the couple’s vast property.
Grace Mugabe’s compound, near Mazowe, includes her luxurious, but loss-making dairy, a new house on a hill, another 29-roomed mansion nearby, a huge orphanage, a primary school, and a new secondary school, nearing completion, surrounded by about five km of 2,5m high brick walls. All these latest buildings are being built with both Chinese and Zimbabwean workers. She took all this valuable land from various white farmers since 2003.
The rumour began circulating after photos appeared on social media earlier this week, apparently taken in Dubai, showing Mugabe and his family with senior vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa and his wife Auxilia.
Mnangagwa, most analysts believe, is set to take over from Mugabe when he dies in office.
Presidential spokesman George Charamba denied there was any truth in the rumour about Mugabe’s death or ill health and slammed his phone down on reporters who called him.