ZIMBABWE president Robert Mugabe celebrated his 90th birthday yesterday with a £600,000 party, a gold cake in the shape of a scaly anteater, and a bizarre outburst against officials who stay in power too long.
Thousands of schoolchildren and supporters, many of them wearing party caps emblazoned with Mugabe’s looping signature, sang “Happy Birthday Presi-daddy” at the celebrations, which were held in the eastern town of Marondera, 43 miles from the capital Harare.
Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist for the last 34 years, said: “We say to ourselves, congratulations, we are 90 years old today.”
He joked that good wishes from his supporters “make me feel energetic as a boy of nine. I have dropped the zero now.”
The veteran Zimbabwe leader, who won a fifth term in office in elections last July, spent his actual birthday on Friday in a Singapore clinic, officially for an operation to remove a cataract.
He arrived back home on Saturday and appeared in relatively good health at the celebrations, wearing a red scarf and flanked by his wife Grace in a black turban.
In a pre-recorded interview broadcast on state TV on his birthday, he claimed he was “as fit as a fiddle except for a few issues here and there”, and singled out a knee that was giving him problems. Reports say he is suffering from prostate cancer.
Ninety cattle were slaughtered to feed the party-goers at the Rudhaka Stadium in Marondera, which was plastered with pictures of the president. State media said 500 schools were to attend the event.
Party officials and church leaders took to the podium to praise Mugabe, a Roman Catholic priest anointed him and Zanu-PF youth secretary Absalom Sikhosana said he was “the genuine conqueror of the British empire”.
The scaly anteaters cake was one of several large novelty cakes donated to Mugabe. Anteaters are seen as royal and revered in local Shona culture. Other cakes were in the shape of a giant beer gourd and Zimbabwe’s independence flame.
The scale of the celebrations – more lavish than last year’s – provoked some criticism as more than two million Zimbabweans require food aid this year. The UN’s WFP programme warned last month that it only has the funds to feed 800,000.
With no apparent sense of irony, the president slammed provincial party officials who he said had stayed in positions of leadership for too long – even though he has been in power since independence in 1980 and refuses to name a successor.
“Those in leadership who have stayed long and have produced no results must now give way and allow other leaders to take over,” Mugabe said. “So give way!”
The president also boasted about his poll victory over Morgan Tsvangirai of the opposition Movement for Democratic (MDC) change:
“The MDC was baffled,” Mugabe said. “Those opponents of ours who imposed sanctions on us in the West were baffled.
“They refused to believe the truth, the truth that the people of Zimbabwe in that national voice most resoundingly decided that Zanu-PF shall be the government of the country, not only now, but also in the future to come.”