The Big Read
Mugabe birthday celebrations through the years
Former president Robert Mugabe still has a support structure‚ and his closest family and friends confirmed this by attending his 94th birthday party.
This being the first birthday celebration without state machinery at his disposal‚ it was a platform to speak about the events that led to his removal from office.
"It's sad‚" Mugabe said as he narrated that he had never seen so much force from the military.
"Those tanks you saw‚ I last saw them in 1939-45 (World War 2). Why go to war against your own people? Because of power!" he exclaimed.
Before the birthday celebrations‚ Zanu PF reached out to its former leader and he snubbed them.
But when things were good‚ Mugabe enjoyed the attention from Zanu PF. One classic example was on the eve of his 90th birthday. His former deputy‚ Joice Mujuru‚ claimed Mugabe saw a vision that he would be Zimbabwe's leader when he was 11 years old.
She saw the "vision" as a prophecy fulfilled - similar to a young Moses seeing the burning bush.
Celebrating Mugabe’s birthday dates back to 1986 under the banner 21st February Movement.
I do not know how I have lived this long.
The idea was borrowed from North Korea’s own version known as "The Day of the Sun" which was celebrated by current leader Kim Jong-un's father and grandfather and now him.
In the years going forward Mugabe found himself sharing cake with younger people and new introductions into his inner circle such as his son-in-law‚ Simba Chikore‚ and his now two-year-old grandson‚ Simbanashe.
Mugabe's last sibling‚ Bridget‚ died at the age of 75 in 2014. Mugabe was heartbroken at her funeral.
"I do not know how I have lived this long‚" he told mourners.
Opportunists never missed a moment to make money off Mugabe's birthday celebrations when he was the most feared politician in Zimbabwe.
In 2012 some youths used his name to import R1-million worth of whiskey‚ duty-free under the guise of supporting the birthday celebrations and various charitable initiatives linked to him. This was despite Mugabe's disdain for alcohol.
In 2013‚ 38 cattle meant for the birthday bash went missing as thousands of ordinary citizens went hungry at the bash while fat cats had a feast.
But there have been instances where conscience ruled over the party spirit.
In 1992 the celebrations were cancelled because he mourned his late wife‚ Sally‚ who died on January 27 the same year.
In the year 2000‚ celebrations were called off because a devastating natural disaster. Cyclone Eline left many people in Matabeleland South‚ Masvingo and Manicaland homeless.
The money raised was donated to that cause.
“The president did not see it fit to commemorate this day whilst villagers in some parts of the country were homeless‚ hungry and had no clothing. As a result of the tragedy caused by the cyclone we will donate [the money instead to] all the victims‚” said the then Zanu PF national secretary for the Youth League Josiah Tungamirai.
When he turned 76 in 2000 there were growing calls that he should step down.
One political analyst quoted by New Ziana‚ on February 22‚ 2000‚ Alfred Nhema‚ challenged Mugabe to work on his exit plan and appoint a successor.
“He should take advantage of his birthday to state his real position on retirement‚ and should encourage those with ambition to take over from him‚” Nhema said at the time.
However‚ 17 years later‚ nothing of that sort had happened.
The 21st February movement celebrations have also been an eye opener into the real Robert Mugabe.
In a televised interview in 1998‚ he reminisced about when he was around six years old and used to walk around naked without notice of anything around him as he carried on with his business of herding goats.
“Those were the best times of my life‚” he told state television.
“I have never allowed myself to have enemies‚” he went on.
“I do have friends contrary to the popular belief that I do not have any. I must admit however‚ that I am more of an introvert‚” he said.
The celebrations also provided Mugabe with an unlimited platform to launch attacks on political rivals.
In 1998 when his establishment was becoming unpopular‚ characterised by industrial action on the eve of the birth of the MDC‚ an offshoot of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU)‚ Mugabe issued a stern warning.
“[Gibson] Sibanda and [Morgan] Tsvangirai think they have powers which are greater than those of the government‚ but the freedom they have to organise workers came through the independence which we attained in 1980‚” Mugabe told those gathered for his celebrations at Mucheke Stadium in Masvingo.
At the same celebrations Mugabe admitted that Zimbabwe was faced with problems‚ many of which became the plotting point for formidable opposition from the MDC and deteriorating international relations.
“We accept that as a nation we are facing problems‚ but these are not insurmountable. They should not be used as an example for people to indulge in reprehensible behaviour‚” he added.