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Chefs carry one of President Robert Mugabe's birthday cakes into the party venue. Associated Press
lavish celebrations

Food shortages aren't stopping Mugabe from throwing himself a massive birthday party

The scale of today’s celebrations have attracted controversy in drought-hit Zimbabwe.

ZIMBABWEAN PRESIDENT ROBERT Mugabe, the world’s oldest leader, is today holding lavish celebrations to mark his 92nd birthday at a time of severe drought and increasing friction over his succession.

Thousands of party loyalists, foreign representatives and members of the public watched as Mugabe released 92 balloons in the air, with songs and ululations ringing out around him.

Several cakes were on display at the public festivities Saturday, one in the shape of Africa, another a whopping 92-kilogram replica of the party venue: the Great Zimbabwe ruins, a Unesco world heritage site built in the 13th century.

During the televised event, school children recited poetry praising Mugabe and criticising western nations. Many supporters wore outfits emblazoned with his portrait.

“Organisers have been working flat-out to ensure the celebrations are a success,” said Simon Khaya-Moyo, spokesman for the ruling ZANU-PF party.

Mugabe, who turned 92 last Sunday, has ruled for 36 years during an era marked by vote-rigging, mass emigration, accusations of human rights abuses and economic decline.

On his actual birthday, state media poured praise on his leadership since independence from Britain.

Zimbabwe Mugabe Birthday Mugabe eats his cake during today's celebrations. Associated Press Associated Press

In its 16-page special supplement, the Sunday Mail said on its front cover: “Thank You Bob, We now have a voice, since 1980″.

The scale of the celebrations, costing a reported $800,000 this year, attract annual controversy in Zimbabwe, which recently declared a “state of disaster” due to the drought and widespread food shortages.

‘Very little to celebrate’

“There is very little to celebrate for a 92-year-old who has presided over the collapse of the economy, reducing the country to a nation of vendors and beggars,” said Takavafira Zhou, a political analyst at Masvingo State University.

There will be wining and dining at the venue while all around people are starving.

Zimbabwe has suffered a series of food crises and hyper-inflation since Mugabe’s land reforms when farms were seized from white farmers for redistribution.

Despite his advanced age and recent speculation over his health, Mugabe has avoided naming a successor, fuelling infighting within ZANU-PF.

Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa is viewed as the likely next president, but in recent weeks he has been publicly criticised by Mugabe’s wife Grace in a sign of growing rivalry.

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe Birthday Mugabe and his wife, Grace, enjoy a surprise birthday celebration at State House in Harare on Monday. Associated Press Associated Press

The president continues to give lengthy speeches, often lauching tirades against his Western foes, but he has become increasingly frail.

He courted ridicule in September by reading the wrong speech to parliament, unaware that he had delivered the same address a month earlier.

On Tuesday, scores of young supporters from the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party staged a protest in Masvingo.

Protest placards read: “No birthday when children are starving” and “We want jobs, not bashes.”

Last year, Mugabe’s 91st birthday celebrations included a cake that weighed 91 kilos.

Local media reported that party activists ordered teachers and villagers in the rural districts of Masvingo to make cash donations to help pay for this year’s celebrations.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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