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Succession Speculation Swirls as Zimbabwe's Mugabe Approaches 82

Reports that President Robert Mugabe visited a Johannesburg hospital, his upcoming 82nd birthday and recent comments from Vice President Joyce Mujuru have nurtured speculation as to who will succeed Zimbabwe’s sole leader since independence.

A spokeswoman for the Johannesburg hospital Mr. Mugabe visited this week said he was just visiting a patient there name was not disclosed. Officials of his ruling ZANU-PF party are asking businesses for donations to meet the costs of a US$100,000 Mugabe birthday celebration February 21 in eastern Manicaland province.

Meanwhile, Mujuru told a French wire service that if circumstances required she would step up to the plate and assume the presidency. She has been regarded as the heir apparent since her late-2004 elevation to the vice presidency by Mr. Mugabe.

The liberation war veteran recently raised eyebrows when she appeared to contradict the ruling party’s position that Western sanctions are to blame for the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy, not the chaotic land redistribution pursued since 2000.

In that same state television interview, conducted while Mujuru was standing in for the president during a recent vacation trip to Malaysia, she also chided unnamed cabinet ministers for lining their pockets instead of looking to the interests of the people.

South African-based political analyst Herman Honekom, parliamentary liaison officer for the Africa Institute, says such comments signal her growing clout in ZANU-PF.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...