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Mugabe’s spokesperson, George Charamba, was not picking up his phone yesterday to offer his insight into Grace’s whereabouts as the nonagenarian embarked on yet another costly foreign trip yesterday, this time to Algeria — following his visits to Singapore, Japan and Namibia last week alone.

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His Algeria sojourn means that Mugabe will have flown more than 50 hours, and tens of thousands of kilometres by the time he comes back home later this week — amid talk that he is scheduled to go on the road again then, on African Union business.

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The 50 hours on the plane also mean that the president will have spent more time flying than he has spent in Zimbabwe since he embarked on his trip to Singapore and Japan, where he controversially included Bona as part of his official entourage, in the absence of Grace.

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But the spokesperson of the Zanu PF Women’s League, Monica Mutsvangwa, also the deputy minister of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services, told the Daily News yesterday that Grace’s reported illness was “mere speculation”, adding that the league — headed by the first lady — continued to hold its meetings as usual.

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But asked specifically whether Grace was attending those meetings, Mutsvangwa said cryptically, “Our meetings are not supposed to be held through the media. The first lady is attending the meetings because she is our secretary”.

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Upon returning from her Singapore medical holiday last month, Grace herself declared that she was feeling strong, and that she was ready to drive the Women’s League agenda forward.

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However, she has to date not been personally associated with many public engagements, apart from attending Mugabe’s lavish birthday jamboree last month and officiating at the commemoration of the International Women’s Day on March 6, with her husband only saying recently that she was still recuperating from her Singapore operation.

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Speaking at the airport, on her return from the Far East, Grace also revealed that she had had another surgical operation to remove her tonsils in 1996, and that she had also had her gall bladder removed in 1996.

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The growing speculation around her absence from the public domain reached fever pitch when she failed to accompany Mugabe to Japan and Namibia last week, and again at the weekend when Mugabe officiated at the centenary celebrations of Kutama High School.

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And when Mugabe left for Algeria yesterday alone again, this gave further fodder to social media tittle-tattle that all was not well with Grace.

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In a cryptic speech at Kutama, Mugabe who is also the chairperson for both Sadc and the African Union, said without elaborating, that he was a worried man — with the frail-looking nonagenarian also telling the gathered current and former students that he had arrived late for the event because he had only slept for two hours on Saturday night.

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“I want to thank you all for coming. I was disjointed because we came back at midnight yesterday. I had two hours of sleep and … I have the habit that if I have something that worries my mind, my mind sleeps on it and I constantly jump out of sleep and say is it not time, is it not time. That is why we were a bit late in coming to this function,” Mugabe said.

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It was not clear whether part of the president’s stress related to Grace’s health condition, his own health, or the myriad political and economic crises bedevilling the country, including growing calls by even Zanu PF luminaries that he steps down.

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Observers said yesterday, that considering Grace’s expressed desire to not just control the influential Women’s League, but also national State matters, including the question of who should succeed her husband, her current absence “is a sign that all is not well”.

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Social commentator Stephene Tsoroti said yesterday that Zimbabweans could read a lot from the appearance of Bona as Mugabe’s chaperone in Japan, as this pointed to the fact that he was now relying heavily on his family for support, especially since his embarrassing fall at the Harare International Airport. – Daily News