Stewart Chabwinja/Chris Muronzi
FRESH from a trip to Singapore where he had gone for medical treatment, President Robert Mugabe this week blew out several candles to mark his 87th birthday.
He was looking rather subdued when he appeared on state television on Monday receiving gifts from staff in his office. As usual, a big birthday bash is slated for tomorrow, which should lift his spirits if indeed he was feeling a little under the weather.
A day before his birthday, supporters in the political violence hotbed of Mbare allegedly forced traders to attend a rally to mark Mugabe’s birthday, while party loyalists and mainly state enterprises sent the customary gushing congratulatory messages to newspapers and broadcast media.
The state broadcaster, ZBH, led the way with songs and messages in praise of the “great leader” — the tributes taking up a sizable chunk of airtime.
A man who was interviewed on one of the programmes last Saturday and who claimed to be from the 21st February Movement had this to say:
“Zimbabwe is blessed and Africa is proud to have President Mugabe. Not like other leaders like the Italian Prime Minister (Silvio Berlusconi), who has been fidgeting (sic) with teenage girls… Or Idi Amin who stole most of his country’s wealth…President Mugabe is a philanthropist.”
Berlusconi is due to stand trial not on charges of “fidgeting with teenage girls”, but for allegedly paying for sex with an underage girl and abuse of office.
Maybe the clincher came from a member of the War Collaborators Association on the same day. His eulogy will take a lot to beat. “I only wish President Mugabe could be born again,” he said, “and start leading the country at 10 or 15 years old so that he can defeat sanctions and silence his detractors!”
Traditional loyalists — cabinet ministers, senior civil servants and parastatals — splash scarce money on big colour adverts mainly in the state media, in which they glorified the president using superlatives. As expected, it was game on last week.
Mugabe’s chief secretary, Misheck Sibanda, who last year praised the aging leader for having “telescopic foresight,” said Mugabe had “visionary stewardship.”
In an advert in a state daily, Sibanda said: “Through his visionary stewardship, the nation has remained strong in defence of its sovereignty and independence, despite numerous challenges.
“His endurance, commitment to the ideals of national unity and peace has helped engender an environment conducive for robust economic growth and development.”
He added that: “Indeed through his principled leadership and commitment to broad-based empowerment, the aspirations of the historically disadvantaged indigenous majority to control the levers of the country’s economy are steadily becoming a reality.”
“As we celebrate the 87th anniversary of the birth of this legendary icon, we continue to draw inspiration from his selfless dedication in rendering service to the nation and the peoples of Africa. May the lord Almighty continue to shower him with more blessings.”
The National Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Board chairman David Chapfika extolled: “…. We therefore wish the country’s beacon many years of good health and continued wise leadership.”
Justice and Legal Affairs minister Patrick Chinamasa wrote: “Indeed, the ministry continues to be inspired and guided by His Excellency’s illustrious and visionary leadership. We wish you many more!”
But the president’s birthday story would not be complete without Absolom Sikhosana, the Zanu PF youth secretary under whom the 21st February Movement falls. Sikhosana hibernates for most of the year, only to emerge and enjoy considerable state media attention when the president’s birthday is just around the corner.
The 21st February Movement was established in 1986 “as a welfare organisation for youths and as a medium to inspire youths to be well behaved through emulating the exemplary character of their patron, President Mugabe”, the organisation claims.
Addressing journalists at the Zanu PF headquarters, Sikhosana was quoted as saying private media reports that they (21st February Movement) were begging for money were unfounded.
Either Sikhosana was just not telling the truth, or someone forgot to tell him that his movement was regularly flighting an advert soliciting for funds towards the president’s birthday bash. For good measure the advert gave the account number where donors could deposit their money, and even thanked would-be donors in advance for contributing to a worthy cause.
And as is customary, the state media published a 12-page supplement carrying no less than 50 pictures of the president, in which mostly state institutions praised Mugabe in glowing and all-too-predictable terms.
It carried stories pointing out that the nation’s “born-frees” were forever indebted to the president as “children of all ages are able to hold their heads high in any place in the world”.