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Sunday Times STLive By HARARE CORRESPONDENT, 2011-02-27

Lavish birthday praise for Mugabe

As President Robert Mugabe turned 87 on Monday, hangers-on and Zanu-PF-controlled state entities fell over themselves wishing the octogenarian many more years to come.

Mugabe returned to Harare from Singapore last Sunday, ostensibly after having eye surgery but speculation over his health continues.

Zanu-PF officials, apologists and chief executives linked to the party splashed out on expensive adverts in the media congratulating Mugabe on his birthday - at a time most Zimbabweans want him to exit the political front.

A huge party, expected to be attended by 10000 Zanu-PF youths, was scheduled for yesterday, at a local five-star hotel in the capital.

The adverts were marked by hero-worshiping phrases and language. In one advert, Mugabe was described as a legendary icon whose selfless dedication in rendering service to the nation and the peoples' of Africa, was inspiring as well as unparalleled.

His chief secretary, Misheck Sibanda, set the ball rolling by throwing a lavish office party on Monday. Mugabe used the occasion to lash out at the West, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and other opponents.

Sibanda also placed an advert on Thursday praise-singing the veteran nationalist, who was born on February 21 1924.

Through Mugabe's visionary stewardship, the advert said, Zimbabwe had remained strong in defence of its sovereignty and independence "despite numerous challenges".

"His enduring commitment to the ideals of national unity and peace has helped engender an environment conducive of robust economic growth and development. Indeed through his principled leadership and commitment to broad-based empowerment, the aspirations of the historically disadvantaged indigenous majority are steadily becoming a reality," the advert said.

Others joined the bandwagon with flattering adverts. Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi placed an advert that read: "The ministry appreciates Your Excellency's role in championing Zimbabwe's interests and those of the developing world on the international arena. These efforts have been acknowledged by all those who believe in a just political and economic world based on the sovereign equality of nations."

Mugabe critic John Makumbe said it was clear the ministers and other Zanu-PF beneficiaries were singing for their supper.

"It's really pathetic," he said. "This is an unacceptable culture which has to be stopped by all means. It's really an ugly culture of personality cult which is costing the nation an arm and a leg while civil servants are starving on salaries of $200 a month."

A half-page advert costs $708 in leading weekly papers.

The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition said there was no justifiable reason why the nation should celebrate with him, while "thousands of civil servants and the unemployed languished in eternal poverty."