Zimbabweans reflect on Mugabe’s 91st birthday party

As the long-serving president celebrates with a lavish party, Zimbabweans weigh in on his leadership.

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe with his wife Grace [AFP/Getty Images]

Harare, Zimbabwe – An estimated 20,000 people gathered at the Victoria Falls resort on Saturday to celebrate the 91st birthday of their leader, President Robert Mugabe.

Schoolchildren and Zanu PF youth brigades from the country’s 10 provinces were dressed in red scarves and marched in parades at the Elephant Hills Intercontinental Hotel that was festooned with celebratory banners and flags for the day-long celebration – expected to cost about $1m.

Mugabe was born on February 21, 1924, and his birthday party is an annual event.

Top ruling party and government officials lined up to hand in presents to Mugabe. 

Although Mugabe is now Africa’s oldest head of state, age has not yet dented his enthusiasm for office. The Zanu PF leader has already won his party’s nomination to contest in upcoming elections in 2018 after more than three decades in power.

Mugabe became Zimbabwe’s first prime minister after independence from Britain in 1980.

His lavish celebrations evoke mixed feelings among Zimbabweans.

Some see the annual jamboree as a perverse taunt amid the country’s economic hardships, while others view it as a fitting tribute to a hero of the liberation, who defeated colonialism after a protracted bush war.

Amid the controversy, Zimbabweans offered different perspectives on this year’s birthday celebrations. 

Obert Gutu,  opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party spokesman

“While we would like to wish Robert Mugabe a happy 91st birthday, we would also like the old man to use his birthday as a moment for serious reflection.

At the very ripe age of 91, Robert Mugabe is certainly way past his prime. No matter what his Zanu PF spin doctors might want to say. Mugabe has seen better days and he is now a big liability to the generality of the people of Zimbabwe for as long as he remains as the county’s head of state and chief executive.

It doesn’t take rocket science for one to appreciate that a 91-year-old man belongs to an old people’s home and not to the state house of a nation.”

Pupurai Togarepi, Zanu PF youth activist 

“The birthday celebrations are being held to honour President Mugabe for empowering Zimbabweans.

This is a birthday celebration by the youths to the president as their liberation icon. It puts into consideration what he has done for them in terms of empowerment, freedom, access to education, health facilities and other resources.”

Grace Kwinjeh,  academic

“I think he is very manipulative, seeing how he has both his two vice presidents under his wing and how his wife seems to be elevated above them as evidenced by the last politburo meeting. So if Mugabe is going to be known for anything in his legacy, it is how he has managed always to outfox rivals within his party and outside.

I’m not sure if there is much he can do, even if he were to step down now, the damage is already done.”

Jones Musara, youth activist

“President Mugabe is a fascinating, resolute, very mentally sharp, and strong leader.

I wish him well and more resources and will to do accelerated delivery of the pressing needs of the masses of Zimbabwe and Africa at large.”

 George Shire, UK-based Zimbabwean scholar 

“Happy birthday to [the president] … and many more to come and let those who wish to join him in the celebration do so with or without pomp.

The question should be how those who want to wish him well should mark the occasion and not the other way round as it would be in bad taste.” 

Dewa Mavhinga, senior researcher Human Rights Watch

“He must make a long overdue decision to go home and rest and leave government and Zanu PF to younger generations with fresh ideas about how to take Zimbabwe forward economically on a democratic and rights-respecting path.”

Source: Al Jazeera