CHINHOYI, Zimbabwe (Reuters) - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe celebrates his 85th birthday on Saturday at a huge party which critics say is insensitive to an economic crisis which has left many families destitute.
The veteran Zimbabwean leader will, for the first time at such a party, be joined by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, his new partner in a power-sharing government formed early this month.
Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s sole ruler for nearly three decades, is holding onto power despite economic and political turmoil that have forced him into a unity government with the opposition.
On Saturday, his ZANU-PF party has — as it has done over the years — organised a rally and party for thousands of people to mark his birthday. He was born on February 21 in 1924.
Party organizers say dozens of cattle, goats and sheep will be slaughtered at the bash in a small farming town near his home village, which is estimated to have cost $150,000.
“This kind of celebration, amid so much suffering by so many, is obscene and a sign of an insensitive leadership,” said John Makumbe, a veteran political analyst and outspoken Mugabe critic.
“In a normal country this kind of party would not be taking place in this kind of environment where so many people have no food,” he said.
“That celebration must be his private affair,” he added.
Political analysts say although Mugabe gives the impression of a man in control, he faces a tough year ahead in managing a fragile government with Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and a battle raging in own ZANU-PF ranks over who should succeed him.
Once feted as a champion of democracy and a liberation hero, Mugabe has come under increasing criticism over the years for violence against opposition supporters and for reducing Zimbabwe from a regional breadbasket into a basket case.
Critics say Mugabe’s reckless policies such as the seizures of white-owned farms for blacks have left half the country’s 13 million people surviving on food aid.
The southern African country is also battling with hyperinflation, which hit 231 million percent last July, massive unemployment, collapsing health and education services and a cholera outbreak that has claimed nearly 4,000 people in six months.
Mugabe says Zimbabwe’s problems are a result of sabotage by Western and domestic opponents trying to oust him over his nationalist policies.