But Reuters reported that the Zimbabwean officials on Wednesday dismissed a South African newspaper report that Mugabe was ill as rubbish.
"The president is not sick but was away on holiday. He returned home yesterday, and those reports are a load of rubbish that we get from sick and evil minds," said one official.
Mugabe is reportedly said to have diverted an Air Zimbabwe flight to Dubai, hence his absence at the Ministerial Retreat over the weekend and at the burial of one of his top henchman, Richard Hove, who died recently.
Acting President Joice Mujuru officiated at Hove’s burial, where she called for the removal of western sanctions on Zimbabwe.
The Times in Johanesburg on Wednesday said it had established that Mugabe was whisked off in secret to a United Arab Emirates hospital on Sunday. He has not been seen in public since Tuesday last week, when he returned from a visit to Namibia.
It is believed he is being treated by a Malaysian urologist, Awang Kechik, who has for many years treated Mugabe for a prostate condition.
Sources at Harare International airport said Mugabe arrived last week without the usual glitz and glamour. There were no sirens and no officials lined the tarmac.
Passengers aboard the scheduled Air Zimbabwe flight on which Mugabe travelled said the president appeared gaunt. He was accompanied by his wife, Amai Grace.
Mugabe’s daughter, Bona, was said to have travelled to Dubai from Hong Kong, where she attends university.
The official line from the president’s office on Tuesday was that Mugabe was on a “private visit to Dubai”.
It was only during a weekend press conference that Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa said the president was out of the country. At the time, most of the Cabinet ministers attending a two-day retreat were not aware that he had left Zimbabwe.
Earlier this month, Mugabe became the oldest member of his government when Vice-President Joseph Msika died at the age of 86.
At the burial of Msika, Mugabe complained that the “grim reaper” was decimating the country’s struggle icons.
Unconfirmed reports said Mugabe went to Dubai in an emergency health scare which started on his visit to Namibia last week.
Reports of rumours started doing the rounds in Harare at the weekend after Mugabe missed the two-day Cabinet retreat in Nyanga. His deputy, Joice Mujuru, stood in for him.
Some reports say Robert Mugabe is putting up a reason to avoid a meeting with South African President Jacob Zuma by feigning ill health.
Zuma will visit Zimbabwe on August 27 as the official guest at the opening of Zimbabwe’s Harare Agricultural show and he is expected to attend to other outstanding issues in the Global Political Agreement between Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF and the MDC.
Mugabe uncharacteristically failed to visit the family of a dead struggle colleague, Richard Hove, who died aged 77 on Friday.
Instead, he sent a written message of condolence to the family of his long-time “comrade”. Hove was a member of the powerful Zanu-PF politburo.
Broadcasts on state radio and television referring to Mujuru as the “acting president” have further fueled speculation that Mugabe is unwell. Mujuru also had to announce the death of, and the conferring of “hero status” on, Hove .
Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa told reporters at the weekend that Mugabe was out of the country. He did not say where Mugabe had gone or reveal the purpose of his visit.
A well-placed insider said the only time the president left Zimbabwe quietly was on private visits — more so when he travelled for health check-ups.
In the past few weeks, Mugabe has had a punishing schedule. He went to Libya, Malawi, Zambia and Namibia.
During the burial of Vice President Joseph Msika two weeks ago, Mugabe looked fatigued after walking up and down the stairway at the Heroes’ Acre shrine in Harare.
Mugabe will put paid to rumours of his failing health if he attends Hove’s burial in the Heroes’ Acre today.