Earlier, Sikhosana had told the state-controlled media that he would have international stars performing in a night of music to mark Mugabe’s 86th birthday. Many had not anticipated Jamaican dancehall icon Sizzla as the highlight of Mugabe’s bash that went on Friday from 6pm to 6am the following day.
But his surprise might not have won him any favours with the boss. Sikhosana was outdone by other party functionaries.
Some bought expensive gifts. Others brought fish-eagle ornaments. The rest had unrivalled praise messages. It is the latter that must have won for many the affection of the ageing leader.
First Misheck Sibanda, Mugabe’s chief of staff, congratulated the octogenarian leader saying he had “telescopic foresight”.
Sibanda said: “Following your telescopic foresight in initiating a knowledge-based economy by distributing computers to disadvantaged secondary schools in all the 10 provinces of our country, your officers have been inspired to immortalise your legacy in this area by putting together seed money to launch the e-learning programme,” he gushed. “We feel greatly privileged to be serving under a visionary leader of exceptional fortitude, whose unwavering determination in defence of our heritage and national sovereignty have become a hallmark of selfless service to our great nation.”
Educational standards have plummeted over the last decade. There is only a haphazard supply of electricity to power the computers!
And then a sequel came from the least expected quarter, a key figure in the MDC formation led by Arthur Mutambara.
Industry and Trade Minister Welshman Ncube placed an advertisement in the state daily, the Herald, and made a damascene transformation from reviling Mugabe as a failed dictator to a man of “visionary leadership”.
But Ncube was low key compared to his Zanu-PF counterparts.
Didymus Mutasa, the Zanu-PF secretary for administration and a Minister of State in Mugabe’s office, said the octogenarian leader was “a special gift God gave to Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole”.
Even state editors joined the fray. The state weekly, the Manica Post wrote: “A great visionary and revolutionary, he (Mugabe) was an object of cynosure held in both veneration and reverence among other African leaders and in some international circles.
“He has remained resolutely steadfast and as constant as the Northern Star. Under his astute leadership Zimbabwe has enjoyed a flourishing democracy, thriving on the corner stone of a multiparty system, tolerance and reconciliation around which egalitarianism is built …No amount of hate speech or the smearing mudslinging can blinker and distract him from championing causes that add value to the world order.”
And the Chinese joined the chorus with that country’s ambassador saying Mugabe was an icon not only to Zimbabwe but to “Africa as a whole”.
Apart from a party held in Mugabe’s honour, the Chinese also took time to learn to sing the national anthem –– Simudzai Mureza –– in prolific Shona that would have shamed many of the country’s citizens. It was not the first time China has spared a thought for Mugabe on birthdays.
In 2007 China gave Mugabe a luxury coach for his 83rd birthday meant for use by the First Family.
This was the first time a foreign embassy has held a birthday party for the president.
Other groups also joined in with fresh compositions which emphasised that without Mugabe’s presence, the country would be stumbling in darkness.
As last week progressed, newspaper advertisements continued flowing in with the usual bootlicking.
By the end of the televised praise and worship show, it was clear that Mugabe’s men were fighting to outdo each other in flattery. And some competition it was this year!
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai did not show up for the weekend party in Bulawayo on Saturday. MDC-T spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said the party did not attend the bash because it was a “Zanu PF event” and “not a national event”.
“We only converge with Zanu PF at national events. We should spend our energy on more useful things,” he said.
Mugabe told the guests, mostly school children, according to our sister paper, the Standard, that he owed his long life to God and the security forces.
“Along the way to this day, there have been attempts on my life. Several people wanted my life. They tried the use of parcel bombs and other means, but they all missed me. I had vigilant people around me, the security forces, the Chimurenga allies and many others ensured my safety,” the president said.
Mugabe is now the world’s oldest leader and has not yet spoken of his retirement plans. Come next year, his ministers and party stalwarts will no doubt be inventing new ways and coining poetic phrases to acknowledge their “supreme leader” and wishing him many more years.
Chris Muronzi/Kudzai Kuwaza