By Shingai Nyoka

HARARE, Feb 19 — Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe turns 90 on Friday and, according to his office, he will spend the day on medical treatment abroad.

Officials say Zimbabwe’s long-time ruler left the country on Monday for a cataract operation. Mugabe has denied rumours he is battling prostate cancer but his latest trip to Asia has re-ignited concerns about his true medical health in the country that he has led for 34 years.

It is Mugabe’s tradition to spend his birthday surrounded by staff members and family before a weekend public bash. But come Friday, Feb 21 this year there will be a break from tradition and there will be no staff party in familiar surroundings.

The Spokesperson of the ryling Zanu-PF party, Rugare Gumbo, said here Tuesday the party was not concerned about the president’s age, but rather about his performance.

The ruling Zanu PF party has brushed aside public concerns about Mugabe’s health problems as he approaches 90.

Gumbo said having a cataract operation was a common thing and the party was satisfied with his performance. “We hope he completes his term of office. That is what he was elected for. If there are changes, we will advise you accordingly,” said Gumbo.

Despite spirited assertions that his health problems are not serious, the public remains unconvinced. Political analyst Ibbo Mandaza says it is no longer a secret that Mugabe is not well.

Mandaza said the public scoffed at such statements as eye problems. Rumours that Mugabe suffers from prostate cancer and other illnesses associated with old age continue to be a popular topic of discussion.

Mandaza said this persistent attempt to portray him as someone who is invincible and even immortal was incredible.

On Saturday, President Mugabe will return from his operation in Singapore for a million dollar public birthday bash on Sunday. He is likely to defy rumours and critics by walking the length and breadth of the stadium to rousing support.

But on the streets of the country, the symbolism of their leader being away on such an occasion will be hard to miss.

Source: SABC