Harare – Brass bands, gold trousers and thousands of guests hungrily waiting for meat, beer and sadza: President Robert Mugabe’s birthday party in Masvingo on Saturday was a colourful, and at times uncomfortable, affair.
He may have been turning 92, but there was little doubt that the star guest at this lavish party was his wife Grace.
Resplendent in a black and white flowered dress and big sunglasses, the 50-year-old first lady emerged from the president’s shiny ZIM1 limousine and remained next to her husband throughout much of the proceedings.
“My lovely wife… Grace,” Mugabe called her, in front of tens of thousands of supporters. He normally referred to his wife in public as Amai, the respectful Shona term for mother.
In the last 20 months she had been taking a leading role in Zimbabwe’s increasingly-bitter battle for power in a post-Robert Mugabe era.
He called those who criticised her “uncultured” and said factionalism had no place in the ruling Zanu-PF party.
“It should never be allowed to exist,” Mugabe thundered in an hour-long speech in which he touched on “rotten aid”, the abuse of social media, and what he euphemistically termed the “bad patch” Zimbabwe was going through.
The crowds listened patiently, despite the rain. Party-goers had been promised a taste of 54 cows, up to five tonnes of game meat and, for the VIPs, some birthday cake.
Mugabe’s three children had travelled to be at the party. Mugabe made each of them stand up separately, including his daughter Bona and her husband Simba Chikore, who are expecting their first child.
Mugabe had been in power in Zimbabwe since independence in 1980. His critics blame his controversial indigenisation and land reform policies for Zimbabwe’s post-2000 slip into economic disaster, from which the southern African country has never really recovered.
Supporters say he has taken a principled stance against the West.N24