Rumours that Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe had suffered a heart attack have been doing the rounds again, but they have been laughed off by veteran journalists as part of the annual Zimbabwean news cycle.
Ray Ndlovu, who has reported on Zimbabwe for a number of South African newspaper titles, including the Mail & Guardian, tweeted earlier on Wednesday: “Oh no those Mugabe death stories have started again. Daily Star in UK reports he had a heart attack on holiday. Yawn. Wake me up when it’s over.”
The state-run The Herald newspaper reported on Wednesday that Zanu-PF was getting ready to celebrate Mugabe’s 92nd birthday on February 21, which from 1986 has been designated a national celebration to inspire the youth to emulate Mugabe’s “exemplary character and leadership qualities”.
No mention was made in the story of Mugabe’s health.
None of the sources in intelligence and the diplomatic community contacted by the M&G could attest to the state of Mugabe’s health.
Two days ago the presidency issued a statement to say that one of Mugabe’s deputies, Emmerson Mnangagwa, had taken over from his counterpart Phelekezela Mphoko as acting president while Mugabe was out of the country on holiday.
Mugabe went on leave on December 24 and traditionally takes a long break at this time of the year, which often gives rise to rumours about his health.
A year ago similar rumours about his state of health emerged.
There were also rumours last year about the health of his wife, Grace, after she stayed behind for treatment, reportedly for cancer, following their holiday last year.
She laughed off rumours of ill-health while on a state visit with her husband in South Africa in April.
The Daily Star tabloid, which reported about Mugabe’s alleged heart attack on Wednesday, seems to have sourced its report from a letter yesterday on ZimEye, a Zimbabwean news site that is critical of the government.
It suggested that a rumour was doing the rounds in the country’s Central Intelligence Agency that Mugabe was in a critical condition after collapsing from a heart attack while on holiday.
The letter, which reads like a news report, states that Mugabe’s spokesperson, George Charamba, has refused to comment. “But sources close to the president are said to be holding high-level meetings as it is believed that he won’t be able to recover”.
It also alleges that the army will be deployed in Harare’s streets in the coming days.
The report claims that his family was secretly flown out of the country and that Mugabe’s condition had deteriorated. Doctors apparently told his family “to expect the worst”.
The rumour seems to have been around since January 1 but flared up again on Tuesday.
A tabloid magazine called Star Mag has reported that rumours have done the rounds on Facebook after a RIP Robert Mugabe page was set up and attracted nearly one million likes. The M&G could, however, not find this page on Facebook on Wednesday.
The magazine said the report “has been confirmed as a complete hoax and just the latest in a string of fake celebrity death reports”.
The M&G has seen a picture of Mugabe said to have been taken recently while on holiday in Malaysia.