Departure Lounge

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has all but confirmed that President Robert Mugabe’s trips to Singapore are an attempt to seek specialist medical attention unavailable in Zimbabwe.

Tsvangirai told journalists yesterday that government had no choice but continue paying for Mugabe’s treatment outside the country if he is sick because it had a duty to do so.

The Prime Minister though, was non-comittal about Mugabe’s exact ailment. Quizzed by reporters on the ballooning foreign travel bill incurred by government, Tsvangirai shifted the blame on Mugabe’s health saying: “Certainly I don’t accept collective punishment.” He however, said Treasury had to pay because government could not watch the 87-year-old die.

“If the President is sick he should be attended to. And whether you like it or not, I think he may say ‘look, I was sick I had to go and get attention.’ And therefore the State has a responsibility of looking after its leaders,” said Tsvangirai.

Pressed on why he has failed to impress on Mugabe, who is reportedly battling cancer, to seek cheaper local treatment, Tsvangirai said: “He is certainly not suffering from malaria as you would understand which we can obtain at the nearest hospital. So I think there might be complications there.”

“And maybe the (medical) attention (available) of that is outside the country where you have got that expertise and you don’t have that local expertise. What do you want him to do?”

Added Tsvangirai: “But then if someone is sick, what do you want him to do? You want him to die when he can seek medical attention somewhere? I think those are justifiable excuses.

“But overally, I think the question of expenditure is a question that the minister (of Finance) is aware of, he has drawn the attention of Cabinet that foreign travel has become one of the most runaway expenditures. So we hope that we will all act with restraint over that issue.”

While Mugabe’s spin-doctors have frantically tried to obfuscate the reasons for his visits to Singapore, Tsvangirai yesterday gave it all away, confirming that Mugabe was consulting medical specialists abroad. During his latest visit to Singapore last week, the eighth such trip this year, Mugabe claimed he had gone on a “private visit.

Arriving at the Harare International Airport on Sunday morning, Mugabe denied his health is failing. “You want to ask me about my health? As you can see, this Mugabe is fit, but I don’t know about the other Mugabe,” said a puffed up Mugabe. Mugabe’s health has been the subject of constant local and foreign media speculation over the past decade.

He is said to be plagued by cancer according to confidential US embassy cables containing briefings with top Zanu PF officials. One cable said Mugabe had been spotted at Gleneagles, a top private hospital in Singapore.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti has said the GNU principals and Cabinet have blown $40 million in six months to June, a top-line ripple for the government’s total recurrent expenditure over the same period.

The three principals, Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara were said to have collectively blown $29 million on travel alone.  Government officials, including GNU principals, have undertaken a series of overseas trips. It is believed that Mugabe withdraws at least $3 million on each of his medical trips overseas, a figure critics say is too high given that the country is broke.

Tsvangirai said it was unfair to blame all the principals for the budget overruns without itemising who spent what. “The question of expenditure, we cannot all be lumped into one expenditure item,” Tsvangirai said. “Surely you should examine who has spent what rather than try to lump us all and say we have all spent $29 million.

“Go and find out in terms of budget allocation what President Mugabe has spent, what was he allocated for, what Prime Minister Tsvangirai was allocated for and what he has spent, then we can have an objective discussion,” said Tsvangirai.

Tsvangirai said his relationship with President Mugabe has evolved from “very acrimonious bitter enemies to a situation where I can say we are collaborative opponents, we collaborate in government as coalition partners.”


President Robert Mugabe is expected to fly to Singapore this morning amid speculation that the aging leader’s visit is motivated by medical reasons.

This is believed to be his eighth visit to Singapore this year.

Mugabe, who is reportedly suffering from several diseases consistent with old age, is expected to leave this morning on a commercial plane to Johannesburg where he will catch another commercial flight to Singapore.

However, presidential spokesperson George Charamba, who has on many occasions said Mugabe was enjoying good health and that he was not aware of the trip.

“I am in Buhera so I do not know what is happening there. Who is saying that the President is ill,” asked Charamba.

About a month ago, Mugabe traveled the same way to Singapore but Charamba had said that his boss was in Harare. Mugabe’s trip, which comes days after his ally Muammar Gaddafi was brutally killed by Libyan forces, will raise speculation on his health.

The last time he traveled to Singapore for the trip which Charamba said his boss had not taken, Mugabe claimed he had gone there on a private visit to see his daughter Bona, who is studying in the Far East country.

To his credit, Mugabe has remained fit for his age and in public, rarely shows any signs of ill-health and at one point jokingly challenged this reporter to a physical fight and went on to throw a few punches in the air to show his “strength.”

In one of the leaked United States diplomatic cables released by whistle-blower website WikiLeaks, a US diplomat is said to have seen Mugabe checking in at a cancer clinic.

According to a cable originated by Joel Ehrendriech, a US official, Mugabe visited Singapore in May and August 2008 for cancer treatment.

Speculation on Mugabe’s health started swelling at the end of last week when he failed to officiate at a graduation ceremony at Chinyoyi and Bindura universities.

But Charamba denied that Mugabe’s failure to attend the ceremonies had anything to do with his illness.

“The President was not invited to officiate,” was all Charamba said although Mugabe as chancellor of all government universities in Zimbabwe, makes sure that he presides over the graduation ceremonies.

Mugabe was also due to travel to Switzerland at the weekend for an UN ICT summit and was supposed to come back via Singapore but suddenly changed plans.

A senior government official confirmed Mugabe’s sudden change of plans.

“President Mugabe was supposed to travel to Switzerland and would have come back via Singapore for routine medical checks but it appears something went wrong. He now has to fly tomorrow (today) morning.

“Air Zimbabwe had already made plans to fly him to Switzerland and then Singapore before coming back to Harare but all this has changed suddenly. It looks like he has something he urgently needs to attend to in Singapore,” said the government official.

Mugabe’s several trips to the Far East have gobbled millions of dollars at a time when the country is struggling to service a $9 billion debt and is reeling under a $700 million budget deficit.

SADC leaders at one time even expressed concern over his health and plan to persuade him to quit.

At some point, Members of Parliament from both ZANU PF and MDC considered impeaching him because of his advanced age and ill health.

It is not very clear what Mugabe is suffering from but sources close to him say he has prostate cancer; a condition which local doctors say is common to men of his age.

Doctors also say a man of Mugabe’s age is also prone to dementia. Charamba however, insists that the president has eye problems.

Yet another cable suggested that Mugabe had consulted a UN medical specialist about his medical problems.

“UN resident representative Victor Angelo on November 12 advised Ambassador Sullivan that Mugabe has consulted with a UN medical specialist about some of his medical problems. According to Angelo, Mugabe’s ailments include periodic convulsions and stroke like episodes (perhaps eschemia) brought on by diabetes and a lipid disorder which affects the covering of the brain,” US political officer Win Dayton said.

The octogenarian leader is said to have been shaken by the brutal demise of his long-time ally Gaddafi.

In addition to the loss, he also feels betrayed and was left depressed when he discovered that his most trusted lieutenants went behind his back and held secret meetings with Americans whom he considers as arch enemies, seeking his removal from office.

Mugabe has also been under pressure from his party which wants him to appoint a successor as they no longer have confidence in his leadership.

There are reports that ZANU PF hawks are planning to turn the party’s conference in December into an extra-ordinary congress where they are reportedly plotting to persuade him to step down.


The Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF), Constantine Chiwenga, is not well and has been airlifted to China for treatment.

The Minister of Defence, Emmerson Mnangagwa, on Thursday confirmed to NewsDay that the army chief had gone to China for medical attention.

However, Mnangagwa refused to confirm reports doing the rounds that when Chiwenga was airlifted, his condition was critical.

It is not clear what Chiwenga is suffering from.

But, impeccable sources revealed to NewsDay that the army chief had eight days ago fallen seriously ill and was immediately airlifted to China.

The sources said the Air Force of Zimbabwe Commander, Air Marshal Perence Shiri, is the acting Commander of the ZDF.

Chiwenga was on Thursday absent from the burial of CIO boss Mernard Muzariri, and he has of late not appeared in public.


A fourth visit by Robert Mugabe to Singapore allegedly to see his sick wife Grace Mugabe has sparked intense speculation that it is in fact the 87 year old dictator who was taken ill and not his wife as claimed.

One report on The Zimbabwe Mail website is quoting a senior intelligence official speaking at the funeral of Mernard Muzariri, the Deputy-Director General in the CIO, who said Mugabe collapsed four times at his mansion in Borrowdale, Harare since his return from Zambia where he had attended the SADC Troika Summit.

“We can also reveal that at some point the President passed out and his family members, including his wife wept uncontrollably as they feared for the worse. His medical team is said to have played a very crucial role in resuscitating the 87 year old,” the report on the website went on.

The official line is that the First Lady Grace Mugabe “slipped and fell in the bathroom at (the Mugabes’) Borrowdale house and was said to have suffered a dislocated hip.” George Charamba, Mugabe’s spokesman, is said to have deliberately leaked the information to cover up for Mugabe’s ailing health.

At the recent SADC Troika summit in Zambia, Mugabe needed the use of a golf cart to travel to and from his hotel room. He was accompanied on the trip by a team of some 60 security and medical aides. Those who managed to get close to Mugabe said his legs were swollen, suggesting heart or blood pressure problems.


The first Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) executive mayor for Masvingo city Engineer Alois Vhuramayi Chaimiti died here on Wednesday after a short illness.

Chaimiti who served as the mayor for Masvingo from 2000 to 2008 was the only MDC-T candidate who won elections to run the city unopposed when Zanu (PF) candidate, Patson Muzvidziwa failed to produce adequate papers at the Nomination Court in 2005.

Deputy Minister of Youth, Indigenization and Empowerment who is also Masvingo Urban legislator Tongai Matutu has described Chaimiti’s death as a major blow to the party.

Matutu described Chaimiti as a man who played a fatherly role in the party’s Masvingo provincial structures.

“We are robbed of a man who used to play a role of a father in our party. He used to advise us and often he acted as a unifying character in the party. His death will leave a void which will be very difficult to fill in the party,” said Matutu.

The current mayor for Masvingo and MDC-T ward 5 councillor Alderman Femias Rashai Foroma Chakabuda said Chaimiti was his mentor who loved to see development in Masvingo.

“He was a man who wanted to see Masvingo developing. He did a number of projects for the city,” said Chakabuda.

Mourners were on Wednesday gathered at his house in Rhodhene.


President Robert Mugabe is said to have suffered a setback in his recovery efforts after what had been initially billed as a minor medical procedure in Malaysia, an impeccable sources travelling with him revealed this morning.

A daily Telegraph story, which was widely circulated by the international media on Monday, alleged President Mugabe was in hospital in Malaysia after undergoing the unspecified “medical procedure”.

However, his spokesman who doubles up as his bodyguard, George Charamba denied the claims saying: “You seem to know more about the President than I do. As far as I am concerned, the President is on his annual leave and we made this public. He will be back soon.”

This morning, a source close to Mugabe’s family told our reporter that the President, who was well on his way to recovery, suffered a setback overnight and he was then taken back into surgery.

The source whose identify cannot be revealed said the President is struggling to shake off the pain after his prostate suddenly flared. The source said Mugabe will however soon be flying home with an expanded team of Malaysian Doctors who will be monitoring his health.

Mr Mugabe, who will turn 87 in February, had medical examinations while on holiday in Malaysia earlier this month. He returned home to Harare but his prostate flared and he has returned to Kuala Lumpur for the operation.

There has been speculation over the President’s health especially after reports emerged that he was receiving treatment outside the country.

As expected his spokesperson George Charamba on Monday poured cold water on the reports, insisting the President was on annual leave.

Media, Information and Publicity minister Webster Shamu was not helpful either, as he said he does not grant interviews over the phone and requested questions in writing.

But, Zanu PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo confirmed President Mugabe would be coming home soon although he could not give a date.

“I am not sure when he is coming but it will definitely be before the end of the month,” he said.

Gumbo however denied the President had undergone medical treatment and said this was “just speculation which people are entitled to”.

However sources said the President had indeed undergone a “medical procedure”.

They however said it was minor and that he should be back in the country and at work soon. The sources said he could return as early as Sunday.

John Nkomo, who has been the acting Head of State, has since reverted back to his position of Vice-President while his counterpart Joice Mujuru is now the Acting President until the return of the President.

This has heightened speculation over the health of the President, as each of the Vice-Presidents has in the past been appointed Acting President pending the return of the President.

However, this time the Vice-Presidents have rotated acting while the President was still out of the country.

Nkomo was the Acting President from the time the President started his annual leave until January 15.

Announcing the appointment of Vice-President Mujuru as Acting President on Wednesday, Charamba said:

“Please be advised that as of January 16, 2011, Honourable Vice-President JTR Mujuru is the Acting President of Zimbabwe until His Excellency President RG Mugabe who is on vacation comes back into office.”

Malaysian Home Affairs minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein has declined to confirm or deny the reports.

“I cannot confirm that and I won’t (say) one way or the other,” the minister was quoted as saying in The Malaysian Insider newspaper on Monday.

Speculation over the President’s health has been going on for some time.

In September last year, President Mugabe publicly denied persistent rumours over his health.

“I don’t know how many times I die, but nobody has ever talked about my resurrection,” the President said at a meeting with Zimbabwean editors at State House.

“I suppose they don’t want to, because it would mean they would mention my resurrection several times and that would be quite divine an achievement for an individual who is not divine,” President Mugabe said.

“Jesus died once, and was resurrected only once, and poor (President) Mugabe several times. My time will come, but for now, no.”


The family of the late former Matabeleland North Governor Welshman Mabhena has snubbed ZANU PF offer to bury the veteran nationalist at the controversial Heroes Acre.

The ZANU PF politburo met in Harare on Wednesday and agreed to give Mabhena a national hero status, but his family would have none of it.

Family spokesman Norman Mabhena said the deceased told the family when he was still alive that he did not want to be buried at the National shrine.

He also said he did not want to be buried at the national shrine because President Robert Mugabe last week said the heroes acre was meant for ‘ZANU PF people only’.

He also complained that the party victimised his brother for championing the cause of development in Matabeleland.

“That is their own declaration, my brother is a national hero whether he is declared or not.
He was humiliated and labelled a tribalist when he talked about issues of Matabeleland. He declared that when he dies no one should touch his body and take him to the National Heroes Acre.

As a family we are going ahead with the burial at Lady Stanley Cemetery because that is what Welshman said.”

In 2000, Mabhena was humiliated when he was re-appointed Matabeleland North governor only to be told that he had been dropped after travelling to Harare for the swearing in ceremony.

He was replaced by Obert Mpofu who is now Minister of Mines and Mining Development.

Speaking to ZBC Newsnet on Wednesday night, ZANU PF Secretary for Information and Publicity Rugare Gumbo said the party’s Politburo had unanimously declared Mabhena a National Hero.

“We have consulted with the family. The date of the burial would be announced later but the truth of the matter is that he has been declared a national hero because he was a solid fighter, patriot who went into retirement.”

“Most of the people who knew him and worked closely with him said he had not left the party,” said Gumbo. “He might have been disappointed because he had not been appointed governor in 2000 but those things do happen.”

Mabhena (86) died at his Four Winds home on Tuesday morning. He had for long been fighting diabetes and high blood pressure.

Former ZANU PF cabinet minister Enos Nkala described Mabhena as a principled politician who never acted like a chameleon.

“I met him before he joined politics and we became friends and met in politics in the ANC of 1953 which was later led by the late Vice President Joshua Nkomo. We met again at the UNDP as well as ZAPU,” said Nkala.

“He was one of the solid fighters for independence. After the split of ZAPU, Mabhena was detained at Gonakudzingwa while we from the ZANU side went to Sikombela.”

“He never joined any party until after the signing of the Unity Accord in 1987 when he briefly served as Minister for Political Affairs and we worked closely together until I left Government in 1989,” said Nkala.

He said Mabhena was made unpopular by his desire to have the region developed and that angered the party leadership.

A veteran of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle, Mabhena strongly advocated for an autonomous Matebeleland State saying the region had been marginalised for years.

Mugabe, who does not take kindly to any criticism against his rule, let alone from a member of his party, has adamantly blocked the burial of his critics at the national shrine, defying strong national sentiment.

Political observers say Mugabe and his party would have ignited a backlash from its narrowing support base in the politically restive Matebeleland region if he had done the same on Mabhena, whose war credentials were seen as impeccable as those of the late Nkomo.

Critics say Mabhena who was one of the most respected political leaders in Matebeleland and a close ally to the late Nkomo, had a great chance to become one of Zimbabwe’s two Vice Presidents if he had not rubbished Mugabe’s rule.

During his post independence political career, Mabhena, a shoemaker by profession, served as PF ZAPU legislator for Nkayi.

At that time, he was the secretary general of the party and in 1987 after the united ZANU PF was born, Mabhena became the new Matabeleland North provincial chairman.

In 1990, Mabhena, who was the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, was appointed Minister of State for Political Affairs.

He was later appointed Governor, a post he held until he was dropped by Mugabe in July 2000.

Mabhena is survived by three children, 12 grandchildren and two great grand children.

Mourners are gathered at Number 12 Amatja Road in Four Winds.


National Healing Minister and Movement for Democratic Change founding president Gibson Jama Sibanda has died, his party announced on Tuesday.

He was 66.

Sibanda, who led the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions for more than a decade, died at Bulawayo’s Mater Dei hospital on Monday night, his party’s deputy secretary general Priscilla Misihairabwi said.

Misihairabwi said Sibanda had been in and out of hospital over the last year quietly battling cancer.

“We have lost a gentle giant, a father figure and quiet spirit who was hardly ruffled by many things,” Misihairabwi told New by telephone from Harare.

Sibanda never re-married after his wife Ntombizodwa died in 2003 following her own public battle with cancer.

Sibanda, a former welfare secretary of the liberation movement, the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), was detained without trial for three years by the former white minority government alongside other nationalist leaders between 1976 and 1979.

In 1984, he was elected president of five amalgamated railway trade unions. He studied and obtained a Diploma in Industrial Labour Relations, and would later become vice president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions in 1988.

He became ZCTU president a year later – a position he held until 1999 when he became the interim leader of a ZCTU-initiated political party, the Movement for Democratic Change.

Sibanda led the party for close to six months leading up to its first congress in February 2000. He was elected deputy president at the congress as Morgan Tsvangirai, the former ZCTU secretary general, assumed leadership.

In parliamentary elections that year, Sibanda became an MP after defeating Dumiso Dabengwa in Nkulumane.

In 2001, Sibanda was arrested on charges of inciting violence. The case was withdrawn in January 2003 before plea.

In November of the same year, an attempt was made on his life and those of MDC secretary general Welshman Ncube, elections director Paul Themba Nyathi and treasurer Fletcher Dulini Ncube.

A gunman opened fire on them with a machine gun while they stood outside the MDC’s regional office in Bulawayo. No arrests were made.

Sibanda’s convoy was also attacked in Kuwadzana, Harare, when he and other MDC leaders went to address a rally during the presidential election campaign in 2002.

On April 1, 2003, Sibanda was arrested once again, this time on charges of seeking to overthrow President Robert Mugabe’s government. The charges arose from a nationwide job boycott supported by the MDC between March 18 and 19.

He was kept in police custody for seven days before being granted bail. He was remanded four times in the ensuing year before the charges were withdrawn before plea on February 16, 2004, because the State was unable to produce any evidence.

Fissures began appearing in the MDC party in 2005 when leaders agonised over whether to field candidates in a newly-established Senate. Sibanda, along with the powerful secretary general Ncube and other leaders advocated participation, arguing that the party could not give ground to Mugabe’s Zanu PF in constituencies where it had MPs – mostly in Matabeleland.

Tsvangirai, meanwhile, took the line that the Senate was an unnecessary drain on the national fiscus and the party should boycott.

The party split that year and Sibanda briefly led a breakaway MDC before standing down at the February 2006 congress which saw the entry of Arthur Mutambara into local politics as president. Sibanda became his deputy.

He lost his parliamentary seat to Thamsanqa Mahlangu from the Tsvangirai-led MDC formation in the 2008 general elections.

In August 2008, he stood for the post of President of the Senate with the support of colleagues from the Tsvangirai-led MDC formation but lost to Zanu PF’s Edna Madzongwe.

Sibanda became a member of the Senate in 2009 following his appointment as a Minister of State for National Healing in the new coalition government formed between Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Mutambara.


Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has sent a message of condolence to the family of the late Chief Khayisa Ndiweni who died on Wednesday.

In his condolence message, PM Tsvangirai said he had learnt the death of the paramount chief with great sadness.

“It was with great sadness that I learnt of the death of Chief Ndiweni yesterday. “Chief Ndiweni was an embodiment of natural leadership and an unwavering custodian of the values and virtues of our tradition,” he said. “He was eloquent, open-minded and true to his word and deeds and knew no political figures but Zimbabweans,” PM Tsvangirai said.

He said the loss was not only for the family but for the nation at large. PM Tsvangirai said the traditional leaders of whom Chief Ndiweni has been a prominent personality over several years, play an important role in nation building, promotion of cultural cohesion and stability.

“On behalf of the government of Zimbabwe and my own behalf, I join the Ndiweni family not in mourning but in celebrating a life of exemplary leadership well lived.”

Chief Ndiweni died in his sleep in the early hours of Wednesday morning at his homestead in Ntabazinduna, about 30km from Bulawayo.

His death came three days after celebrating his 97th birthday at his homestead. He became chief in 1939 at the age of 26 and served as a traditional leader for 71 years old.

A fierce critic of President Robert Mugabe’s rule and the unitary system of governance, Chief Ndiweni was a strong proponent of federalism.

He is the former leader of the United Federal Party and took part in the Lancaster House Conference in 1979 which led to the independence of this country.

He is survived by his wife, 11 children, 30 grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren and one great- great-grandchild. Funeral arrangements are yet to be announced.


Another Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) high ranking official, Mayor of Gweru Councilor Desmond Fungayi Mufunde has died

Councilor Desmond Fungayi Mufunde died in Harare on Sunday, a day after the death of seasoned politician and senator for Gweru urban, Patrick Kombayi.

The mayor died at the age of 61 and is survived by his wife and four children, according to a statement by Gweru Town Clerk Daniel Matawu.

“We are in great sorrow to learn of the death of our mayor who died on Sunday evening after a long illness. The council joins Mufunde in mourning the deceased because their loss is ours. Funeral arrangements will be announced in due course,” he said.

He said mourners were  gathered at 120 Umsungwe Avenue in Ridgmount in Gweru. The deceased was scheduled to be buried on Wednesday.


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