Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe has marked his 91st birthday by delivering a characteristically defiant speech in which he threatened to take over land and animal sanctuaries still in the hands of white people.
Mr Mugabe’s robust performance during a lavish party in the resort town of Victoria Falls seemed designed to dispel any speculation that old age was slowing him down following a recent fall at Harare’s main airport. Mr Mugabe’s birthday was on February 21.
Thousands of people packed the grounds of a hotel to praise the man who has led Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, and youth officials who organised the event encouraged him to rule until he dies. Mr Mugabe won disputed elections in 2013; he would be 94 during the next elections in 2018.
In his speech, which lasted more than an hour, Mr Mugabe said a recent audit showed white people still control vast tracts of Zimbabwean land despite an often violent land reform programme that saw thousands of white farmers evicted to make way for black people.
“Zimbabwe has lots of safaris but very few are African. Most are white-owned. In our region, we have the most safaris and animals. But we are now going to invade those forests. Our people cannot keep suffering,” Mr Mugabe said in the nationally televised address.
He said he will only allow whites to own animal sanctuaries if the United States removes sanctions imposed on him, his wife and some members of his inner circle. The West has long sparred with Mr Mugabe over his human rights record.
“We can do things for ourselves. We don’t need the white man to continue to guide us,” Mr Mugabe said.
The Commercial Farmers Union, which represents white farmers, says fewer than 300 out of 4,500 whites remain on land following a purge that started in 2000.
Over the decades, Mr Mugabe has sidelined and sometimes crushed dissent, casting himself as a champion of post-colonial Africa. This year, he became chairman of the 54-nation African Union. He also heads a regional group of 15 southern African nations.