President Robert Mugabe says he is “happy” about turning 91 and ascribed his longevity to the fact that “God has looked after me”.
The smiling Mugabe looked strong yesterday when he chaired the Southern African Development Community (SADC) double troika summit on Lesotho in Pretoria, on the eve of his 91st birthday on February 21.
When asked for his birthday message, Mugabe told reporters: “I have had the lion’s share, I am happy”. He said he was happy “in this age” and he was happy to be among “political friends”.
Referring to other leaders from SADC, Mugabe said they have assisted Zimbabwe in its struggle for independence, and Zimbabwe has in turn helped other countries win independence. “I am happy, I have seen my country become an independent one,” he said.
Mugabe was flanked by President Jacob Zuma, Lesotho Prime Minister Tom Thabane, International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. Ministers from other countries in the region were also in the meeting.
Mugabe, who is the oldest leader in the world, thanked “the good Lord for giving me this long life”.
It has been reported that Mugabe was planning a lavish celebration, which is set to take place on February 28, a week after his birthday, at a luxury golf course near Victoria Falls.
The party – for an estimated 20 000 guests – is set to cost more than $1 million (R11 million) and the menu will feature elephant meat. According to state media two elephants, two buffaloes, a lion, two sables and five impala will be slaughtered for the feast.
Zimbabwe’s Daily News reported that party supporters like Tendai Musasa have donated game meat and a lion trophy, while other businesses felt “coerced” to donate. Zanu-PF’s youth wing has called for Mugabe’s birthday to be a public holiday.
Opposition parties have criticised the planned celebrations as “lavish”.
Human Rights Watch in a statement yesterday said Mugabe also got a “gift” from the European Union in the form of €237 million development aid package to Zimbabwe after 12 years of sanctions.
“While important for ordinary Zimbabweans who desperately need the healthcare, agriculture and good governance assistance the EU aid package promises to bring, it should also come with a clear message: respect for human rights is non-negotiable,” Human Rights Watch said.
Mugabe’s wife, Grace, also made headlines this week when she sat next to her husband at her first Politburo meeting after returning from abroad where she received medical treatment.
The chairs next to Mugabe are usually meant for the vice-presidents and this move has sent tongues wagging that Grace Mugabe, who was catapulted to the top of the Zanu-PF women’s league in December, is set for a promotion.