LAST Saturday was one of those days in Bindura, about 85km north of Harare, so eloquently described by famed African author Chinua Achebe as a moment “when the sun seemed so determined to bake the life out of every living creature” at the stadium.
Report by Elias Mambo
Right up to midday, the scene at Chipadze stadium where President Robert Mugabe celebrated his 89th birthday could have been taken straight out of Achebe’s classic Anthills of the Savannah.
With a wry sense of humour, Achebe captured the condition of poor ordinary people thronging political gatherings and waiting in the searing heat while observing the empty comfortable seats awaiting privileged political personages.
Thousands of people from all walks of life thronged the stadium and waited in the scorching sun for Mugabe and his entourage to arrive.
They came in sleek vehicles, some on bicycles, tractors, trucks and others on foot. Villagers and other ordinary Zanu PF supporters started arriving as early as 7am and by 11am the stadium in the sleepy mining town of Bindura was chock-full.
True to form, Zanu PF heavyweights began trickling in around midday in posh cars, making their way to tents so strategically positioned to shield them from nature’s vagaries.
The scene at Chipadze was reminiscent of recent events in North Korea during the commemoration of the late Kim Jong-il’s birthday.
North Koreans are unmatched when it comes to hero-worshipping their leaders whom they treat with reverence and awe.
On February 16 they were seen all over the media bowing in front of a portrait of late leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang, commemorating the birthday of the dead leader they still continue to deify.
Kim Jong-il, also romanised as Kim Jong II, was the supreme leader of North Korea from 1994 to 2011. He succeeded his father and founder of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Kim Il-sung following the elder Kim’s death in 1994.
Following his death, he was succeeded by his third son Kim Jong-un. His birthday is a public holiday in the country.
In theatrical scenes to mark Kim Jong-il’s birthday, emotional tributes and documentary footage were broadcast on state television commemorating the “Day of the Shining Star”, paying homage to a leader who died of a heart attack two years ago at the age of 69.
It was just a spectacle. The wild pomp and ceremony surrounding the event reflects the North Korean state’s attempts to bolster the near mythical personality cult surrounding the Kim dynasty, which has intensified since his death.
While Zimbabweans in general cannot match North Koreans in glorifying and singing praises for their leaders, there is a sycophantic section of society which hero-worships Mugabe. It was evident at Chipadze stadium.
When the Master of Ceremony asked the gathering to rise to their feet to welcome Mugabe, the crowd automatically leapt to its feet and started chanting affectionately “Gushungo, Gushungo”, Mugabe’s totem.
But to people’s amazement, a group of senior party officials led by the powerful Defence minister and presidential aspirant Emmerson Mnangagwa strode into the stadium. This did not deter the enthusiastic crowd who continued chanting “Gushungo,Gushungo” until Mnangagwa sat down.
Mugabe, clad in an elegant khaki suit, dark cream shirt and matching tie, only made his grand entrance an hour later. Accompanied by his wife Grace and two children, Bona and Chatunga Bellermine.
The deafening cheers sadly could not inspire his 89-year old frail-looking frame –– whom supporters have been comically hailing as “the greatest statesman of all time”, “fountain of wisdom”, “supreme leader”, among other fawning tributes – to run with the 89 balloons like he usually does on his birthday celebrations.
At the high table, Mugabe was flanked by Vice-President Joice Mujuru and Grace. Zanu PF youth secretary Absalom Sikhosana, national chairperson Simon Khaya Moyo, Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander Constantine Chiwenga and Air Force boss Air Marshal Perence Shiri joined the president at the high table where VIPs surrounded him to pay homage.
Traditional chiefs, students, diplomats and youth representatives of former liberation movements from Sadc also attended the celebrations.
The centrepiece of the bash was gigantic five-piece cake housed in an open tent and displayed at the centre of the field. Its two largest parts depicted the Mashonaland Central landscape, with its tobacco and other crops as well as the mining activities.
The other piece depicted the Zanu PF headquarters surrounded by the party flag while the third piece was an artistic impression of a hoe and a gun which tells the story of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle and land reform.
Government and party officials fell over each other showering Mugabe with gifts and praises. He received so many gifts, including cattle, sheep, goats and money. Despite all the hectic activities and noise around Mugabe, his wife and Mujuru on many occasions had to nudge him to keep him alert. From close quarters it was also evident he is now frail.
Even though he spoke for more than one hour, his keynote address was characterised by slurred speech. Mugabe himself admitted in his recent interview on the eve of his birthday he was reeling from dotage.
“If one looks at it from the point of age, when one was growing older and before, all the time, each day, each month was an addition to one’s age and it meant, of course, some measure of wear and tear,” Mugabe said.
“We all suffer from that: wear and tear.” While Mugabe’s spirit is still willing it is now evident the flesh is weak.