Mugabe to Zuma: Catch me if you can

2015-04-09 08:28

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Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe was the first to wish President Jacob Zuma a happy 73rd, ahead of his birthday on Sunday.

“I want to congratulate you (Zuma), not only on reaching this milestone, but also for your commendable effort to catch up with me,” the 91-year-old said after remarking that his state visit to South Africa – the first in 21 years – only came a few days before Zuma’s birthday.

The two presidents exchanged niceties at the state banquet in Mugabe’s honour at the presidential guest house in Pretoria last night.

At some point Zuma, who was sitting next to Mugabe’s wife, Grace, got up and boogied with “Amai”, as she is affectionately known in Zimbabwe.

President Jacob Zuma dances with Zimbabwe's First Lady Grace Mugabe. Picture: Carien du Plessis/City Press

Despite reports that she was gravely ill and even dying, Grace Mugabe sparkled and smiled last night, and even joked to journalists about the reports, saying they were seeing “my corpse”.

Zuma’s wife, Thobeka Madiba, who was sitting next to Mugabe, also got up to dance, leaving the oldest statesman in Africa sitting alone at the main table in the front of the neon-lit room.

Mugabe has reportedly been extra careful since he took a tumble on the red carpet in January, and yesterday he always moved around with somebody nearby to assist him. Last night, however, going up to the podium to propose the toast, Mugabe walked unaided.

He congratulated South Africans with the upcoming 21st celebrations of the defeat of apartheid – on April 27 – and told Zuma he was re-elected last year because South Africans felt this freedom was in safe hands.

Mugabe, who is the chairperson of both the African Union and the Southern African Development Community this year, also praised South Africa for the role the country was playing in peace-keeping and the establishment of security on the continent.

Zuma, in turn calling Mugabe “comrade president”, said “the struggle we are waging today of improving the socio-economic situation of our countries is proving to be more difficult than we ever thought.

“But if we partner together as we did when we were fighting against colonialism and apartheid, we shall overcome it.”

Zuma said he would urge businesses to invest in Zimbabwe with the aim of creating jobs.

The banquet was attended by celebrities such as Dali Tambo and his wife, Rachel, Mugabe’s two sons Robert and Chatunga, ministers from both sides, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe and treasurer general Zweli Mkhize, and former Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni.

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