News and Views
89-kilo cake for Mugabe’s 89th birthday bash
Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, celebrating his 89th birthday on Saturday, said he believes he will win another five-year term in crucial elections expected later this year.
The veteran ruler, who hosts the lavish celebration every year, cut an 89-kilogramme cake and was presented with minted coins to mark the occasion.
His Zanu-PF party said $600,000 had been collected for the bash from private companies and individuals.
The 20,000 strong crowd was treated to expensive food and drinks in the small mining town of Bindura about 90 kilometres north east of Harare.
In his speech, the President who last year visited Singapore more than five times seeking medical help, said he was confident that Zanu-PF would reverse the 2007 election setback where it lost control of Parliament for the first time since independence.
He accused his coalition partners of claiming an upsurge in cases of political violence allegedly perpetrated by Zanu-PF to cover up for their impending defeat in the polls likely to be held in July.
“Wherever there is a funeral, even if the person has been gored by a bull, they say it is Zanu-PF,” President Mugabe said, drawing laughter from the stadium.” Even if someone falls from a vehicle, they say it is Zanu-PF.
“They have a problem that they blame anyone who dies on Zanu-PF. This is a disease not in Zanu-PF.”
The coalition government the veteran ruler formed with former fierce rival and now prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai in 2009 after bloody polls was sharply divided last week after a 12 year-old boy was burnt to death in a suspected politically motivated arson attack.
Mr Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) accused a Zanu-PF minister of being behind the killing of the son of its official in Manicaland province, Mr Shepherd Maisiri.
Cows and praises
President Mugabe had no kind words for the United States ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mr Bruce Wharton, whom he accused of taking sides in the case.
“I heard the ambassador commenting on the…..incident even before investigations had commenced and the preliminary report had ruled out foul play. His comments were in line with the MDC,” he said. “If he wants to support the MDC on the basis of dishonesty let him do so.”
Zanu-PF accuses the United States and Britain of sponsoring the MDC to push for President Mugabe’s ouster.
Officials from the two other parties in the coalition government did not attend the celebrations, which they described as too costly in a country where more than half of the population relies on food handouts from donors.
Mr Tsvangirai was in the Midlands province campaigning for a new constitution that would be put to a referendum on March 16.
Supporters of the President used the birthday celebration, broadcast live on national television, to shower him with gifts and praises.
Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono gave him 89 cows and one of the major diamond mining companies reportedly paid for the gigantic cake.
President Mugabe said he was moved by the gifts.
“The love that comes from the heart is far more valuable than the presents,” he said.
Opinion polls have shown Zanu PF regaining support in most parts of the country ahead of the elections.
Army and police commanders have warned that they would not support any party that would win elections other than Zanu-PF.
The police have also launched a crackdown against non-government organisations that are accused of distributing cheap hand-cranked and solar-powered radios to villagers to listen to radio stations run by exiled Zimbabwean journalists.
President Mugabe’s 2008 presidential runoff election victory was rejected by the international community after Mr Tsvangirai who had beaten him in the first round of the polls boycotted the second round.