Africa’s oldest leader and Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, whose state of health has sparked speculation in recent years, on Tuesday credited his longevity to “God’s will”.
“I do not know how I have come to live this long. It is all God’s will,” Mugabe, who turns 90 on February 21, said at the burial of his younger sister Bridget.
Belying recent rumours that circulated after he had not been seen in public for weeks, Mugabe showed no signs of ill health as he spoke for an hour at a graveside podium at the rural family rural home in Zvimba, some 100 kilometres (60 miles) west of the capital Harare.
Mugabe, now the only survivor among six siblings, lamented the losses of his older brothers Raphael and Michael when he was young, as well as the loss of younger brother Donato in 2007 and younger sister Sabina in 2010.
Bridget, who died in hospital on Saturday aged 78, had been in a coma since collapsing at Sabina’s funeral.
Mugabe’s eulogy soon switched to politics as he touched on the highly sensitive issue of land.
“Zimbabwe’s land, its natural resources, belong to the people of Zimbabwe,” he said.
“It is a relationship which is natural, God-given and which makes you owners of your wealth and therefore masters of your destiny,” he said.
The government of the former Rhodesia has adopted a controversial law that forces foreign-owned companies to cede their majority shares to local blacks.
“Sure, we will need partners, but we need partners who do not become our masters,” he said.
Mugabe’s health has been the subject of speculation in recent years, with some media suggesting he sought medical treatment in countries including Malaysia and Singapore.
A US diplomatic cable from 2008, leaked two years ago by anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, quoted Mugabe’s close ally and former central bank chief Gideon Gono as telling former US ambassador Christopher Dell that Mugabe had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.