Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe

Like Mark Twain, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has cause to continually lament that reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated, with the latest rumours being that he is on his death bed in a Singapore hospital.

Such erroneous claims have circulated for years, and are now spread on the internet quicker than you can say “land grab”.

The 88-year-old Mugabe is frequently “reported” as being dead or dying, or being rushed to foreign hospitals for the treatment of mortal illnesses. One day such reports will prove to be correct, but for the moment a world used to the torrent of lies that flow from his Zanu-PF is left to wonder whether the latest claims are true, or just wishful thinking from his detractors, enemies or very many victims.

The rumour mill has been given great grist since the release by Wikileaks of a 2008 US diplomatic cable claiming Mugabe was suffering from prostate cancer, and this week’s speculation was fuelled by the cancellation of a cabinet meeting due to be chaired by Mugabe.

But true or false, the latest swirl of rumour again raises the question of who will succeed Mugabe – will a worse dictator emerge – and what Mugabe’s death will mean for his nation’s future?

Under his rule there has been an unprecedented exodus of Zimbabweans from their country, unprecedented in that such outflow of humanity is usually associated with refugees fleeing a war rather than their own ruling party. Deprived of a free and fair vote in elections, and robbed of the ability to make a living, millions of Zimbabweans have voted with their feet.

The number will never be known, but the presence of so many Zimbabweans in South Africa alone tells the story of a deliberately failed state. Deliberate in that Mugabe and his henchmen have been prepared to ruin their country’s economy in order to stay in power.

The three-year-old power-sharing agreement with Morgan Tsvangirai is derisive in practice, not least because Mugabe holds little hope of winning a election. But it is up to Mugabe’s neighbours to force a largely free and fair poll, which remains Zimbabwe’s only route to salvation.