HARARE, Zimbabwe – Zimbabwe's 88-year-old president left for Singapore for a routine medical checkup, state radio reported Tuesday. After several trips to the Asian country in the past year, it is the first time the state broadcaster has officially announced reasons for his departure.
The last time President Robert Mugabe went to Singapore on a private visit in April, state radio said that some Western and local media organizations "peddled falsehoods" that he was gravely ill.
The announcement follows a slew of reports in Zimbabwe media loyal to Mugabe on his fitness — even that he has a strict exercise regime and awakens before the rest of his household — in efforts to head off speculation on his health.
Mugabe, who has ruled the southern African nation for more than three decades, has looked healthy at recent public engagements and repeatedly declared his is "as fit as a fiddle."
In local media, Mugabe allies and foes have recently praised him for his energy and decisiveness. Finance Minister Tendai Biti, a top aide of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, described Mugabe as alert and wise in private face to face meetings that lasted for hours.
"We find counsel and wisdom in him. He is a very seductive man ... you will be shocked by the calmness," said Biti in an interview published in full by the state Sunday Mail newspaper this week. Biti is known as a firebrand in the coalition.
Mugabe's wife Grace, his former secretary half his age, in a similar interview run verbatim in the state media said the couple begin their day at 5:00 a.m. or earlier "depending on our schedule."
"It is my husband who gets out of bed first," she said. "He will not miss his morning exercises, seven days a week," she said.
She suggested longevity runs in the family.
"He is very lucky he inherited his mother's genes. We think when she died she was over 100 years old and she was very sound and never sick at all, " Grace Mugabe said.