ZVIMBA, Zimbabwe (Reuters) - Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe attributed his long life to God’s will but shied away from commenting on his health on Tuesday, a day after scotching rumors he was sick by appearing in public for the first time in several weeks.
Mugabe, who has ruled the former British colony since independence in 1980, turns 90 in exactly a month, making his state of health the hottest topic for Zimbabwe’s 13 million people and its ruling ZANU-PF party.
“I do not know how I have lived this long,” he told mourners at the funeral of his sister, Bridget, in the village of Zvimba, 90 km (55 miles) west of Harare.
“It is all in God’s hands,” he said in the Shona language to a crowd including African and Western diplomats.
Mugabe, who is going bald, was seen whispering and laughing with his wife Grace. He did not refer to his health during his hour-long speech.
Africa’s oldest leader travels frequently to Singapore but his aides have denied reports that he is being treated for prostate cancer.
Rumors prompted by his recent absence from the spotlight have been swirling around Harare in the last two weeks, some suggesting that the veteran leader was seriously ill and others even suggesting he had died.
His lieutenants dismissed the rumors as baseless.
At the funeral, Mugabe managed to sprinkle his speech with anecdotes about his fondness for British history and tradition, joking that he still measured distance in miles, unlike most Zimbabweans who use kilometers.
“I am very British, you know. I am English again, don’t forget,” he told mourners.
However, he then quickly changed tune, taking a swipe at the British political leaders he believes were trying to undermine him by backing opposition groups in a July 31 election he won by a landslide, albeit amid opposition cries of fraud.
“The British up to now don’t know what hit them on July 31,” he said.
Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Ed Cropley and Andrew Heavens