Mugabe birthday wishes start rolling in

FILE PICTURE: A Zimbabwean, wearing a tee-shirt and a sign bearing a portrait of Robert Mugabe, greets President Robert Mugabe during his swearing-in ceremony on August 22, 2013 at the 60,000-seater sports stadium in Harare. Veteran leader Robert Mugabe was sworn in as Zimbabwe's president for another five-year term before a stadium packed with tens of thousands of jubilant supporters. AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER JOE

The T-shirts have been printed and the congratulatory messages for President Robert Mugabe, who turns 91 on Saturday, are already rolling in.

But no-one wishing the longtime Zimbabwean leader a happy birthday will be able to entirely forget the awkward moment when he fell less than a month ago, a Sapa correspondent reported.

Mugabe’s party — a lavish spread on the golf course of the swanky Elephant Hills Resort in Victoria Falls — will not be held until February 28.

If he is back from a Southern African Development Community (SADC) troika meeting in South Africa, his birthday on Saturday will be low-key: most likely a cake presented to the president and his wife by his staff, and Happy Birthday played on state radio.

The official Manica Post newspaper was already littered with birthday messages for Mugabe from schools, individuals and businesses on Friday.

“Chipinge Breezes Lodge management and staff congratulate His Excellency Comrade RG Mugabe on his 91st birthday,” read one of them.

The president’s chief secretary Misheck Sibanda wrote: “To us who have this unique privilege to work closely with you, you are indeed a living legend of the liberation struggle, a principled leader of immense fortitude of mind and body… .”

“You have, over the years, become an enduring symbol of resistance to imperialist hegemony in all its manifestations,” Sibanda said.

Mugabe’s supporters are keen to make this the president’s best-ever birthday and erase all memories of his undignified stumble on the red carpet at Harare’s main airport on February 4.

ZANU-PF officials announced on Friday a free train would be laid on to transport 1,600 supporters from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls next weekend.

Around 100 “21sters” — children born on Mugabe’s birthday — will be flown to Victoria Falls to join in the fun. They will be put up free of charge in some of the resort’s hotels, reports say.

Government officials have donated money and cattle to the event, rumoured to cost up to US1 million. There is some controversy over the two donated elephants likely to feature on the menu.

A commemorative T-shirt has been made by local designer Xenophon Tome-Garanga, according to state media.

Despite the feasting and the glamour, memories of Mugabe’s undignified stumble just will not go away.

Images of the besuited president, arms outspread, keep resurfacing, most recently in a fake Nando’s advertisement. On Thursday, the fast food chain distanced itself from the ad, which said “Falling for our chicken is risky business”.

Government officials insist Mugabe did not actually fall, but stumbled because of a bump in the carpet.

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