Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe turns 88 next week and preparations for his birthday celebration, known among his Zanu-PF supporters as the “21st February Movement”, are now in full swing.
Mutare, the host city for the celebrations, will showcase the lavish wealth of the party. A giant birthday cake, three-course meals, a music gala featuring top Zimbabwean artists, a Miss 21st Movement beauty pageant and a soccer tournament dubbed the “Bob 88 Super Cup” are on offer.
Over the past two months the provinces have been chipping in with “donations” to make the big day a memorable one for Mugabe. There are rumours that the bash will cost nearly $1-million, the same price Zanu-PF paid for its three-day conference in Bulawayo last December.
Observers say, however, that the popular social activities are a last-ditch attempt by Zanu-PF to raise support for the ageing leader ahead of the election, which, it is thought, will be held this year.
Zanu-PF wants to secure a majority vote and then pull out of the unity government. The latter turned three on Wednesday this week and Zanu-PF maintains that it has “failed”. But on the eve of Mugabe’s birthday, questions are being asked in political circles about the veteran leader’s ability to steer the country in the future.
Welshman Ncube, leader of the splinter Movement for Democratic Change, said: “With all the poverty and the hunger in the country, what do you think Mugabe can do, as an old man who sleeps all the time, that he could not do as a young revolutionary? Why do you think the same man who has destroyed the country in 30 years can mend it in 2013? The only thing he is qualified for is to go back as a grandfather to Zvimba [his rural home] and play with his grandchildren.”
Mugabe likens stepping down to “cowardice”
Last December Mugabe moved to downplay mounting criticism and suggestions in Zanu-PF that he should step down, saying that to do so would be “an act of cowardice”. Thirty-two years after independence, He continues to tower over the country’s political landscape and now insists on being addressed by three titles: “the head of state, head of government and commander in chief”. Observers say the demand is not only meant to signify his superiority over archrival Morgan Tsvangirai, but also a signal that he is indispensable.
The perception that Mugabe is indispensable has taken root in Zanu-PF as he refuses to pick a successor while using the bitter factionalism plaguing his party to entrench his rule.
Political analyst Charles Mangongera said: “I do not think that he has a cogent plan for dealing with his party’s succession juggernaut. It has become too complicated and difficult for him to unravel at his advanced age. This is going to be the biggest blight on his legacy, because he will certainly go down as a nationalist leader who presided over the demise of his party.”
Zanu-PF handlers have also been kept increasingly busy trying to cover up for Mugabe’s numerous slip-ups and dispel the persistent speculation that their leader is inept. Mugabe is said to fall asleep often during Cabinet meetings, mix up names, have periodic memory lapses and is thought to suffer from throat cancer. Said Mangongera: “Certainly, Mugabe has lost the zest and political craftiness that propelled him to the leadership of Zanu-PF in 1975. A combination of old age and poor judgment has taken its toll on him. Although he still displays some flashes of brilliance and political savvy, he is no longer the machiavellian tactician he once was.”
A top Zanu-PF official pointed out the close-knit relationship Mugabe has carved out with the military’s top brass as an indication of where the real centre of power has moved in the past four years.
“Military leaders do not want the inclusive government to continue, because they are afraid that Mugabe’s continuous interaction with Tsvangirai is risky. They fear isolation, that Mugabe can cut a political deal that will exclude them.”