Reports this week that the usual lavish birthday extravaganza is being arranged for President Robert Mugabe’s 86th birthday come as no great shock. Every year the President’s birthday is marked with an embarrassingly unashamed outpouring of pomp and circumstance accompanied by sycophantic fawning among the political elite, paid for by siphoned public funds and coerced contributions from the private sector.
The 21st February youth movement was established in the mid 1980s to mark the occasion. Members are groomed to follow their parents' rise in the president’s hardline political party, ZANU PF. The (government-controlled) media publishes special supplements depicting Mugabe as a national hero and lavishing praise on all his deeds, notably repelling the British colonials and all their perceived allies and friends - Americans, Ozzies, etc.
The “Old Man” appears fit and healthy, and he clearly has no intention of relaxing his iron fist. Rumour has it that he meets all new ambassadors and dignitaries on the steps of State House, which he runs up, two at a time, to demonstrate his prowess. The diplomatic corps also reportedly refer to him as "Botox Bob" because he has a youthful countenance which occasionally collapses if he’s left it too long between injections.
Clearly he is a lot healthier than his country, thanks to the disastrous land reform programme, and the continued raping of the economy by Bob and his cronies. The economy is in tatters, and recovery is seriously threatened by the indigenisation bill which Mugabe unilaterally gazetted last week, requiring a minimum of 51% of all businesses operating in the country to be handed over to indigenous Zimbabweans. Life expectancy at birth for males was 60 in 1990, and has now declined dramatically to 37, the lowest life expectancy in the world. It’s worse for women: their life expectancy at birth of only 34 years. Over 90% of the population is unemployed, millions have fled the country, teachers and civil servants are striking over their paltry wages and over two million people are starving.
Official birthday celebrations are being ramped up this year to include an all night gala featuring local and international artists. The location for this extravaganza is Bulawayo, ironic as it is the city nearest where the Gukurahundi killings took place in the 1980s, during which roughly 3000 people were killed or disappeared at the hands of the fearsome 5th Brigade, under the command of the Old Man himself.
It may be the twilight of his political career, but from where I sit, it still seems that cunning old Bob, and his cohorts, have a firm grip of all the aces. Yes some things have improved for some people in Zimbabwe, but for the majority, the future still looks bleak.
I’m not the only one in Harare tonight who feels desperate, angry, depressed, sad – and emotionally wrought out. Like a thin wire stretched to breaking point.
We’ve been through a lot in the last ten years, how much more suffering can this country endure?