Fit Mugabe back in the mix
President Robert Mugabe returned home yesterday looking fit after a trip to Singapore that had ignited speculation that he was seriously ill.
The 88-year-old president, who has ruled Zimbabwe for more than three decades, landed at Harare's main airport on a chartered plane accompanied by his wife, Grace.
Information Minister Webster Shamu blamed Western media for spreading rumours about Mugabe's health.
"As you can see, he is fit as a fiddle. Why do we spread rumours? It's all lies told by a press driving an imperialist agenda," Shamu told a group of reporters at the airport.
Three hours after his arrival, Mugabe was chairing a weekly cabinet meeting that been rescheduled from Tuesday..
He went around the cabinet room, greeting and laughing with ministers, including those from the Movement for Democratic Change, led by his bitter rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, government officials said.
Mugabe and Tsvangirai share power in a fragile coalition formed three years ago.
Earlier Mugabe was seen at the airport joking and laughing with Vice-President Joice Mujuru, his possible successor.
The former guerrilla leader has been the subject of several health scares, with some reports saying he has prostate cancer.
But in February interviews with state media, he laughed off suggestions that he was seriously ill.
Mugabe and close aides have kept his health a closely guarded secret.
Some members of his Zanu-PF party are afraid that, should he die in office without settling a bitter succession battle, the party could erupt in internal conflict and destabilise the country.
Although Zanu-PF officials rally behind Mugabe in public, in private many want him to retire and pass on the baton to a younger person as they fear his advanced age might cost the party crucial votes in future elections.
Though some Zanu-PF members see Mugabe as a political liability, they recognise him as the only person able to control the highly partisan Zimbabwean army led by veterans of the 1970s independence war.
Many are also unsure whether his potential successors can defeat Zanu-PF's most formidable opponent, Tsvangirai, in a free election.
Elections must be held by next year under the terms of their power-sharing deal.