Mugabe turns 88, still going strong

by Jan Raath, DPA

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe is expected to be presented with a very large cake on his 88th birthday Tuesday, ahead of elaborate and costly official events to mark the occasion in the impoverished nation.

The aging and reportedly ill Mugabe, who has been at the helm of since independence in 1980, has insisted repeatedly in recent weeks that he will continue to run Zimbabwe for the foreseeable future.

As it does every year, the media is likely to capture Mugabe as he marks the occasion, posing with the birthday cake presented by family and staff.

In the days that follow, the festivities that have been organized by his special “21st of February Movement”, are to kick off.

Some 5,000 members of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party and their families are expected to attend the main party, which is to be followed by the finals of a special football tournament – the 1-million-dollar Bob ’88 Super Cup.

There will also be a Miss February 21 beauty pageant.

Mugabe is believed to be recovering from prostate cancer, and last year flew repeatedly to Singapore, for what observers said were “rejuvenation treatments.”

At key public events last year, including party conferences, Mugabe was seen falling asleep and generally appeared to be weakening.

However, since his most recent return from the Far East last month, Mugabe has embarked on a strong public relations campaign.

The president has held a wave of interviews and public speeches and, at a football event, was photographed puffing into a “vuvuzela,” the plastic horn made famous at the 2010 football World Cup in South Africa.

His reinvigorated appearance has been accompanied by a firm stance on his future political role in the southern African nation.

“All the people support that I stand,” Mugabe said about the next election. “There is no one (else) who can stand at the moment,” he told state media in an interview at the weekend.

While Zanu-PF says it wants to hold elections this year, the rival Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and civil society groups say they want constitutional reforms to be concluded first.

The MDC is part of the coalition government in place since 2008, when Zanu-PF was forced by its regional neighbours to share power, following elections that were marked by violence and allegations of fraud.

Observers say Zanu-PF wants its veteran leader on the ticket for the next election, in part, as no one else in the party has been groomed to take over the job.

Officials in neighbouring South Africa – which is in charge of monitoring the fragile and often violated coalition deal – have already publicly expressed concern about a messy succession in Zimbabwe, should Mugabe die while in power.