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Is Tsvangirai too ill to be president?

“While I agree with the argument that one’s health is a private matter, once one declares intention to run for public office, their health become a national issue,” wrote Jealousy Mawarire in a commentary.

Mawarire, as a former spokesperson for rival opposition leader Joice Mujuru, is hardly an impartial voice on this issue.

But that doesn’t mean he’s wrong.

He added: “It is foolhardy to expect that a leader under the weather can help turn around an economy that is just as sick as their physical body. The state of our economy, the arduous task of arresting the decay of infrastructure and the curbing of rampant corruption in public service needs a focused leader, not someone battling chronic ailments …

“We certainly don’t need a president in 2018 who will be spending most of their time either in South Africa or Singapore receiving medical attention.”

For more on why that is a bad idea, Zimbabweans just have to cast their eyes across their borders to other African countries that have struggled with the same issue.

In Nigeria, for example, the unexpected death of President Umaru Yar’Adua in 2010 plunged the country into political turmoil.

And just when the country seemed to have recovered after the election of Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, Buhari himself became ill.

He has spent most of this year receiving treatment in London, with Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo left to run the country.

Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos and Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika also received treatment abroad this year, in Barcelona and Paris respectively.

Both failed to communicate their health issues effectively, leading to intense and destabilising speculation about who was really running their countries.

Consider, too, the long list of African presidents who have died in office because of ill health, almost always leaving a leadership vacuum in their wake: Zambia’s Michael Sata (2014), Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi (2012), Ghana’s John Atta Mills (2012), Malawi’s Bingu wa Mutharika (2012), Guinea-Bissau’s Malam Bacai Sanhá (2012), Gabon’s Omar Bongo (2009) and Guinea’s Lansana Conté (2008).

And that’s just in the past decade.

But two things set Tsvangirai apart from the examples above.

The first is his age.

At 65 years old, he is still relatively young, especially compared with nonagenarian Mugabe.

The second is his candour.

To his credit, and again unlike Mugabe, Tsvangirai has been honest about his condition.

But that doesn’t mean that Zimbabweans shouldn’t factor in the opposition leader’s health issues before casting their ballot.

In the most literal sense, is Tsvangirai fit for office?

By Simon Allison. This article is reproduced from the Mail and Guardian

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