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Mugabe Marks 91st Birthday Amidst Concerns

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ZIMBABWE’S president, Robert Mugabe, turns 91 Saturday, with his supporters saying they will back him to run his full term until 2018 and beyond despite nagging questions about his health and an economy that is crumbling under his watch.

   Mugabe’s recent fall at Harare Airport fuelled renewed speculation that old age is catching up with the man who has led Zimbabwe since independence in 1980. The spry Mugabe, however, succeeded in breaking his fall and apparently was not injured. His officials say he is in good health.

   Low key events marked yesterday’s birthday but lavish celebrations are planned next Saturday (February 28) in the resort town of Victoria Falls.  Those celebrations will be held by the 21st February Movement, the group that has planned Mugabe’s birthday celebrations since 1986.    Members of Mugabe’s ruling paty, ZANU-PF, say they are raising more than $1 million for the festivities.

   Mugabe won disputed elections in 2013 and his supporters say they want him to contest the 2018 elections at 94.

   Nelson Chamisa, an opposition legislator, said Mugabe should hand over the baton. “I would equate what ZANU-PF is doing to abuse of the elderly,” he said. “He needs to rest. Even our constitution stipulates that we have an oblation to take care of our elderly. Look at what happened at the airport, a very embarrassing situation.”

   Mugabe’s wife Grace, 42 years his junior, has recently become prominent in Zimbabwe’s politics. At this week’s ZANU-PF politburo meeting she sat next to Mugabe in the seat previously taken by ousted vice president Joice Mujuru. Grace Mugabe is secretary for women’s affairs in the politburo.

   Didymus Mutasa, who worked with Mugabe since the 1960s until he was fired from his presidential ministerial position last year and from the party this week for allegedly plotting to oust Mugabe, said Grace is now the power behind the throne.

   “Grace has effectively taken over,” he said. “Power now revolves around her and this is sad because she is inexperienced and will cause more damage.”

   Supa Mandiwanzira, the minister for Information and Communications Technology, said Mugabe is still in charge.

   “I sit in cabinet every Tuesday with the president, he is totally, fully in charge,” he said, dismissing criticism of Mugabe’s birthday festivities.

   “The celebrations are worth every cent. This is an icon we are talking about,” said Mandiwanzira. “He is pushing for the empowerment of blacks through the land reform program and the indigenization policy.”



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