President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe marked his 91st birthday by speaking for more than an hour on his feet, delivering a defiant speech in which he threatened to take over land and animal sanctuaries still in the hands of whites.
Thousands of supporters sat in large white tents during the €900,000 ($1m) birthday celebration on a rolling golf course near the waterfalls, organised by his Zanu-PF party. His party has said the money was raised from individual and company donations.
Mugabe’s robust performance during the lavish party seemed designed to dispel any speculation that old age was slowing him down following a recent fall at Harare’s main airport.
Mugabe’s birthday was on February 21 but he held his party over the weekend.
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 Mugabe to rule until he dies. He won disputed elections in 2013 and will be 94 during the next elections in 2018.
Mugabe said a recent audit showed whites 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 blacks.
“Zimbabwe has lots of safaris but very few are African,” Mugabe said in the nationally televised address. “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.”
He said he will only allow whites to own animal sanctuaries if the US removes sanctions imposed on him, his wife, and some members of his inner circle. The West has long sparred with Mugabe over his human rights record.
“We can do things for ourselves. We don’t need the white man to continue to guide us,” 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, Mugabe has sidelined and sometimes crushed dissent, casting himself as a champion of post-colonial Africa.
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