Marking his 90th birthday, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe said he is not ready to retire.
“Why should it [retirement] be discussed when it is not due?” he said in an interview broadcast on state television. “The leadership still exists that runs the country. In other words, I am still there... When the day comes and I retire... I do not want to leave my party in tatters. I want to leave it intact.”
Mugabe said he is “fit as a fiddle,” but appeared frail in the prerecorded televised interview, at times stumbling over his words and slumping in his chair.
Mugabe’s birthday was on Friday, when he was in Singapore for a cataract operation on his left eye, the president’s office said. The Zimbabwean leader returned from Singapore on Saturday and was to celebrate his birthday yesterday.
The birthday celebrations — estimated to cost US$1 million — were to be held at a 50,000-seat stadium in Marondera, 74km east of Harare, where organizers said potholed streets have been repaired for the event.
Critics say Mugabe will not discuss his retirement because he wants to die in office.
“The truth is we are faced with a very sick president who doesn’t want to retire,” analyst Ibbo Mandaza told reporters.
Mugabe’s 90th birthday comes amid intense speculation on Zimbabwe’s future when his grip on power loosens.
Vying to replace him are Zimbabwean Vice President Joice Mujuru and Minister of Justice Emmerson Mnangagwa.
In July last year, Mugabe, who has ruled the nation for 33 years since 1980, won disputed elections for another five-year term that will take him to age 94.
In his early years in power, Mugabe expanded public education and health services that were the envy of the continent, but Zimbabwe’s economy went into meltdown in 2000 after Mugabe ordered the seizures of thousands of white-owned commercial farms, leading to the collapse of the agriculture-based economy.
Unemployment has soared to an estimated 80 percent and hundreds of established industries have closed, often blamed on Mugabe’s new black empowerment laws that compel companies to give black Zimbabweans 51 percent control.
Mugabe has blamed the slump on Western economic sanctions.
In recent weeks, the country has been seen allegations of massive corruption in state enterprises at a time when many Zimbabweans are surviving on less than US$2 a day.