PRIME Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has been forced to deny he has a "terminal" illness.
The allegation – made by a state-media columnist believed to be President Robert Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba – comes at a time parties are stepping up campaigns for what could be a bitter electoral showdown.
Writing in the Saturday Herald, Nathaniel Manheru charged: “Measured by the scale of health, most of MDC’s candidates, current and aspiring, are in fact more mortal than President Mugabe.
“Most are ill, terminally ill. But that is a matter for a bolder day!”
But Tsvangirai’s spokesman, Luke Tamborinyoka denied Tuesday that the MDC-T leader was battling any health challenges.
“Zimbabweans know who is sick in as far as the Prime Minister’s health is concerned,” Tamborinyoka told NewsDay.
“He has never travelled outside the country or inside the country seeking medical help. We all know who has done that.”
MDC-T spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora also weighed in, dismissing Manheru’s claims as typical “Zanu PF nonsense”.
“Well, that is typical nonsense and hogwash on the part of Nathaniel Manheru who is either Jonathan Moyo or George Charamba. It is typical nonsense. Manheru’s Zanu PF has not carried medical tests on our members. They are young, they are vibrant and that is clear.
“Our presidential candidate is younger, more energetic and more visionary than President Mugabe. President Mugabe is old and everybody knows that. Therefore, Zanu PF rarely wants the people of Zimbabwe to judge the candidate.”
Mwonzora added: “They must agree to conditions for free and fair elections. Right now, they are delaying and dillydallying over the constitution-making process. We want to complete the roadmap to free and fair elections and have free and fair elections.
“Our presidential candidate is physically fit and has never had to go outside the country for medical attention.”
Zanu PF officials have previously warned that they would hit back hard if rivals tried to make Mugabe’s age – he turned 88 this year - and reported ill-health an election issue.
Politburo member Jonathan Moyo last December challenged Tsvangirai to undergo a public HIV test after it emerged the MDC-T leader had paid lobola for his then girlfriend, Locardia Tembo, who was also claimed to be pregnant.
“The fact that it is beyond any argument that Tsvangirai is having unprotected sex with women out there, many who, like Bulawayo’s Miss Nyathi, are clearly young, naïve, impressionable and vulnerable, means that he has either exposed himself to HIV or has exposed his women victims to the virus in a country where exposure to HIV is a very risky business that in some instances amounts to a death sentence,” said Moyo in December
“Therefore, and this is very serious, Tsvangirai’s HIV status is now a matter not just of his privacy to which he is entitled but is also a matter of public interest and public concern.
“So Morgan Tsvangirai must go for an HIV test today and publish the result or quit politics pronto. There’s no “if this” or “but this”, he must just do it or quit. Full stop.
“If Tsvangirai does not want to take an HIV test and to have the results thereof published in light of his scandalous sexual escapades, then he must quit as both Prime Minister and leader of his MDC.”
Zimbabwe is priming for fresh polls after parties to the coalition government conceded the arrangement had failed due to policy and other differences.
Mugabe is pushing for the elections to be held this year but his rivals have vowed to block him, demanding full implementation of political and electoral reforms to ensure the ballot is free and fair.
Tsvangirai has already said a credible election is only viable in 2013.