MYSTERY over President Robert Mugabe’s whereabouts deepened yesterday, after he was reportedly said to have met his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, yesterday, hardly four days after his deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa, announced that the veteran politician had left China and flown back to his favourite holiday retreat in Singapore.
Chinese media yesterday confirmed that Mugabe was in Beijing, where he pledged to strengthen co-operation with China in various sectors of the economy, including infrastructure development and agriculture.
Early last week, Mnangagwa revealed that his boss had travelled to China and on Thursday, the VP told mourners at the late national hero, Peter Chanetsa’s Borrowdale home that he had spoken to Mugabe before the Zanu PF strongman retreated to Singapore to continue with his holiday.
“I phoned the President telling him about the death and he told me that he had learnt about it through the First Lady, who had read about it on the internet,” Mnangagwa said then.
“I managed to talk to him (Mugabe). He had left China for Singapore and he said tell the relatives that I am in agreement (with Chanetsa’s hero status).”
Chanetsa was declared a national hero and buried at the national shrine, with Mnangagwa presiding over the event as acting President.
Yesterday, Chinese media published images of Mugabe meeting Xi in Beijing, suggesting the Zanu PF leader had either made a second trip to China within a week or had not left that country.
Mugabe is also scheduled to travel to Mali and Equatorial Guinea for yet-to-be-specified reasons.
It has also been reported that the President will fly between Singapore and Dubai, where he will meet some of his ministers, who are making a beeline for Asia, to visit the veteran leader.
Mugabe’s latest visit to China is a follow-up to Xi’s State visit to Zimbabwe and the Johannesburg summit, late last year.
The soon-to-be-93-year-old Zanu PF leader, currently on a month-long vacation together with his family, has lined up several international junkets from his Singapore base, bleeding the national economy and national carrier, Air Zimbabwe, in the process it has been reported.
Last month, presidential spokesperson, George Charamba indicated that his boss’ annual leave would be interspersed with official engagements including a trip to the African Union Summit in Ethiopia later this month.
Mugabe’s surprise appearance in China has set tongues wagging back home, with his critics accusing him of globe-trotting and blowing taxpayers’ money at a time the local economy is stuttering, with the majority of civil servants having received their December salaries only a week ago.
Former Finance minister and opposition People’s Democratic Party leader, Tendai Biti, last month claimed that Mugabe collects at least $4 million from Treasury each time he travels outside the country and about $6 million for his month-long annual leave, leaving government coffers dry.
“Every time the President leaves the country, he takes with him $4 million in hard cash, which in most cases is raided from the RTGS system,” he alleged.
“This is part of the reason why we have cash shortages, because accounts for ordinary people have been raided to fund unnecessary travel. With his relatives and security personnel over the month-long holiday, he could spend close to $6 million.”
Opposition parties and civil society groups have on numerous occasions called on Mugabe to take a cue from his regional counterparts, and cut down on his foreign travel to save the scarce foreign currency.
“The Far East is President Robert Mugabe’s holiday destination of choice. This is a colossal embarrassment to have the entire First Family and their in-laws flying more than 10 000km away for an extended holiday at the State’s expense.
“Other leaders like President Jacob Zuma of South Africa are spending their holidays at their rural homes in Nkandla, KwaZulu Natal, but Mugabe can never spend his annual holidays at local tourist resorts such as the Victoria Falls, Kariba or Nyanga,” MDC-T spokesperson, Obert Gutu said.
Former Vice-President Joice Mujuru’s Zimbabwe People First has also accused Mugabe of choking the economy by his endless foreign trips.
Charamba yesterday confirmed Mugabe was in China. “Yes, the President is in China on official business and held a meeting with his counterpart, President Xi, he later had dinner and, as we stated in our statement at the beginning of his annual leave, he would be engaged in some official government engagements during his leave. You shall see more of those meetings. I can confirm the President is in China.”
Meanwhile Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko has taken over as acting President — taking over from his counterpart, Mnangagwa — who goes on leave until next month.
Mnangagwa has been acting President since last month when President Robert Mugabe embarked on his annual leave.
Charamba, confirmed in a statement last night that Mphoko is acting President from today until Mugabe resumes his duties next month.
“Vice-President Mphoko will act up to the end of this month when His Excellency is expected back into the office,”he said.