Rumors about President Robert Mugabe's state of health and sharp reactions by Zanu PF and presidential spokesman, George Charamba, have set the social and mainstream media on fire.
Some Zimbabweans are now urging the government to disclose his state of health while on holiday in the Far East following unconfirmed reports that he suffered a heart attack.
The government has since dismissed these reports as baseless.
Some local people say while Mr. Mugabe is now 91 years old, an age which is commonly associated with many health challenges, it is unlikely that he is sick as such reports have been circulating over the years when the president is on vacation in Asia.
President Mugabe and his wife left for a vacation in December 15th at an unspecified destination in the Far East following the Zanu PF People’s Conference held in Victoria Falls.
When the president left the country, Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko took over as acting president, a position he held until recently when Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa returned from leave. Mnangagwa is currently the acting president, a move that generated a lot of interest among some Zimbabweans when he took over from Mphoko.
This coincided with a report that the president had some health issues. Some observers and government insiders say this arrangement was made before Mr. Mugabe went on leave.
Though Charamba and Zanu-PF spokesman Simon Khaya Moyo have squashed rumors that the president may be experiencing health challenges while on leave after allegedly experiencing a heart attack, this has set social and mainstream media on fire.
What would ease the nation's hungry curiosity about the state of their president?
Melody Garaipasi of Chitungwiza said while she is now familiar with the annual rumor concerning the president’s health, there is need for government to open up about his condition and whereabouts.
“It normally happens every January. I think it’s also important for the Zanu PF people to communicate the correct message to the public regarding the health and whereabouts of the president so that we can curb speculations.”
Garaipasi said the president must at times spend his holidays in the country to avoid such kind of reports.
Milton Phiri of Harare’s Rugare high density suburb said while the president’s health problems have, in his words, “become a usual January rumor” it clearly shows what Zimbabweans think about Mr. Mugabe’s state of health all the time.
“I think people are now cooking up stories because they really want it to happen and I think when the day comes they will be celebrations in Zimbabwe.”
But for Zanu PF youth, Onias Mabhara of Mbare, the rumors were cooked up by the president’s enemies.
“These are false and malicious reports intended to damage the image of the president.”
Independent political commentator, Fortune Gwaze, concurred, saying the nation is now accustomed to the rumours.
“I don’t think there is anything to it unless we don’t see him coming back when he is supposed to assume his duties in early February or end of January.”
When people start talking about Mugabe’s death then the next day they see him well coming up strongly then they say this guy is invincible."
For Owen Dhliwayo, the health concerns are the work of some political players who want to portray Mr. Mugabe as an invincible man.
“When people start talking about Mugabe’s death then the next day they see him well coming up strongly then they say this guy is invincible. They want to paint a picture of Mugabe as someone who is beyond human frailties, like he is not affected by his health so they want to present him like that.”
But Harare Polytechnic media lecturer, Wellington Gwadzikwa, blamed all this on what he called shoddy journalism.
“Media organizations and journalists are writing stories that are false, that have no facts, that are fictitious and that are also malicious. People will never trust the media because why should you trust the same media which gives you false information. So the media profession is likely not to be taken seriously.
Rumors of this nature have occurred annually, with a memorable headline once quoting President Mugabe stating that "I am not dead."
Mr. Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe for more than 35 years, turns 92 next month.
Meanwhile, Mnangagwa and Mphoko have taken turns to serve in Mr. Mugabe’s position while he is on leave.
It proves that Zimbabwean politics is shaped around an individual and not an institution so this causes a lot or problems when it comes to decision making."
Political analysts say there was nothing wrong with the arrangement given that they have always done so in the past.
Dhilawayo said it did not matter who acted as president because party and government meetings such as the ruling Zanu PF Politburo and cabinet do not take when Mr. Mugabe is on leave or out of the country.
“It proves that Zimbabwean politics is shaped around an individual and not an institution so this causes a lot or problems when it comes to decision making."
But former Zimbabwe National Students Union leader Tafadzwa Mugwadi said it was important for the two vice presidents to alternate as it gave them experience to lead the nation.
“It’s giving both of them an opportunity to showcase their potential to demonstrate their ability to run the nation and assist the president especially when he is not available.”
Mr. Mugabe, who is also the chairman of the African Union, is expected back home at the end of this month.