President Robert Mugabe sat and casually snacked on imported American Lay’s potato chips, with a bottle of South Africa’s Valpre water set on a table in front of him.
As the newly turned 93 year-old leader slowly munched away, his ruling party’s youth leader Kudzai Chipanga stood metres away, waxing lyrical about signs that the Mugabe government was starting to win its battle to curb imports, protect local industry and revive a flagging economy.
This glaring irony was just one of several punctuating Mugabe’s huge birthday rally hosted by ZANU-PF, which feted him as “an African liberation icon” yesterday.
The venue in Matobo, 30 kilometres outside Zimbabwe’s second capital Bulawayo, was a school named after British colonial icon Cecil John Rhodes and a stone’s throw away from his grave site atop a hill.
In the run-up to the event, ZANU-PF officials in the host province explained the reason behind the choice. The school, established in 1932, still boasts of some of the best infrastructure in the area, in stark contrast to the Mugabe government’s patchy record in developing post-independence public infrastructure, especially schools.
No doubt aware of the awkward symbolism, ZANU-PF youth commissar Innocent Hamandishe told Mugabe: “Today we trample upon the grave of Cecil John Rhodes in disgust for all he stands for.”
In response, later as he addressed the rally, Mugabe did not seem keen on jousting with colonial ghosts, saving some choice jabs for living foes in the form of party officials feuding over his succession.
“It’s not as if he will rise again,” Mugabe said dismissively, although he promised to “crush Rhodes’ head if he somehow rears it.”
Mugabe did say officials had told him the Rhodes Estate Preparatory School, on whose vast, muddy grounds the rally was held, would be re-named Matopos Junior School.
Unsurprisingly, Mugabe’s 73-minute speech largely ignored the economy — the subdued leader only became slightly animated when addressing the vexed issue of his succession — but urged patience with a parallel currency his government introduced last year in a bid to ease a bank note shortage.
Mugabe’s government says the shortage has been caused by unrestrained imports. Like crisps and bottled water.
“Bond notes are just a temporary thing. We want you to bear with us,” Mugabe said at the end of a long, ad-libbed speech which hardly hit any highs and sounded like a morose monologue.
“We want you to bear with us. We wanted to adopt them for a short period.”
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