US diplomatic cables released by whistle-blowing website Wikileaks include one quoting a top official saying President Robert Mugabe has prostate cancer which has spread to other parts of his body and that his doctors told him in 2008 that he might not live beyond five years, suggesting he might depart the scene in 2013.
Extracts from the leaked cables were published by numerous Zimbabwe outlets including NewZimbabwe.com, The Daily News, Newsday and The Sunday Mail, the last a state-controlled publication. One leaked cable said Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor Gideon Gono told then-US Ambassador James Mcgee that Mr. Mugabe had been advised by his doctors to step down and focus on his health problems.
The US cable released by Wikileaks stated that Gono "told the Ambassador on June 4 that President Robert Mugabe has prostate cancer that has metastasized and, according to doctors, will cause his death in three to five years."
The cable continued: “According to Gono, Mugabe's doctor had recommended he cut back on his activities. (NOTE: Gono told us last year that Mugabe was ill and that his doctor had urged him to step down immediately. Mugabe had told his doctor, according to Gono, that he would leave office after the election).”
That diplomatic communication has prompted speculation that one reason Mr. Mugabe has been pushing so hard for elections to be held in 2011 (though he recently proposed March 2012 for the ballot) was that he was in failing health.
Gono was quoted elsewhere as saying that Mr. Mugabe's wife, Grace, had told him her spouse was “out of it about 75 percent of the time” and wanted him to quit politics.
In yet another leaked cable, Botswana President Ian Khama was quoted as telling US officials that President Mugabe dozed off in meetings but was always quick to respond to questions when an answer was required of him.
The cables reveal that Botswana approached the United States seeking arms and other defense materiel because it feared an attack by Zimbabwe as tensions surged amid charges by Harare that Botswana harbored anti-Mugabe forces of the Movement for Democratic Change formation headed by Morgan Tsvangirai, now prime minister.
Other cables said two serving generals had secret meetings with Ambassador Charles Ray last year, and described Defense Forces Chief General Constantine Chiwenga as a “political general” with little military expertise.
But analysts say the most important leak is the one suggesting that Mr. Mugabe may not have many more years to live. Analyst Charles Mangongera said there certainly is going to be political backlash and re-alignment in ZANU-PF as a result of the leaks.
But London-based political analyst George Shire said the leaked cables represented "mere gossip’ that will have no impact on Zimbabwe’s political landscape.
However he said the leaked cables reveal that: “ZANU-PF’s projection of their foreign policy is one that is an adversarial relationship with the West, which is very different from an accommodating relationship with the West which the MDC has.”
Commentator Abiot Moyo said Mr. Mugabe could be strengthened by the leaks as those quoted in the cables are likely to seek to reassure him and regain favor.
South Africa-based analyst Tendai Dumbutshena said the leaks show normal behavior of people making negative statements, even about their leaders, when speaking privately.
Dumbutshena said the Wikileaks cables showed some ZANU-PF officials disingenuous as to their attitude toward the West. “ZANU-PF’s stance is hypocritical. They criticize the MDC for talking to the West when they have been engaging them behind closed doors.”
ZANU-PF Parliamentary Whip Joram Gumbo said the comments attributed to Gono and other senior figures in ZANU-PF will not divide the party, contending that insiders see them as Western propaganda intended to cause alarm.