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Mugabe bash enrages conservationists

February 28, 2015

Robert Mugabe has been the president of Zimbabwe since its independence from Britain in 1980. His 91st birthday was feted at a lavish party near the Victoria Falls, accompanied by criticism at home and from abroad.

Robert Mugabe
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Ufumeli

The celebration at the five-star Elephant Hill Hotel for nearly two thousand guests was staged on the hotel's 18-hole golf course. The youth wing of Mugabe's Zanu-PF party, which organized the event, had promised to raise a million dollars for the event: The money was eventually raised from individual and company donations, Zanu-PF said.

The fete's menu upset conservationists from the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, who had expressed outrage at wild animals being killed to feed guests. The fare included elephant, buffalo and lion meat, specially slaughtered for the party, as well as seven huge cakes, the biggest of which weighed 91 kilograms (200 pounds).

The scale of festivities in the impoverished country had been described well in advance of the event by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change as "obscene."

'Shock' at white land ownership

Robert Mugabe dispelled all speculation regarding his health - after his recent fall at Harare Airport - by speaking on his feet for more than an hour, often deviating from the original script. The main thrust of his characteristically defiant speech was the threat to take over more land and the safari trade from the hands of white residents.

Fifteen years into his controversial land redistribution program, Mugabe said he was "shocked" to discover that 163 farms were still in the possession of whites. The Commercial Farmers Union, which represents white farmers, has stated that about 300 of the original 4,500 white landholders remain in Zimbabwe since the reform began.

On Saturday, Mugabe was heard to declare in his nationally televised address: "Zimbabwe has lots of safaris, but very few are African. Most are white-owned ... But we are now going to invade those forests."

Whites will be allowed to own animal sanctuaries only if the United States removed sanctions on him, his wife and other members of his inner circle, Mugabe stipulated.

Divisive leader

On the other hand, Mugabe has admitted in a recent interview to mark his birthday that it might have been a mistake to give farms to people which were too large: "They can't manage them. You find that most of them are just using one third of the land."

A deeply divisive figure both at home and in the African - especially in the post-colonial context, Mugabe's supporters fully expect him to take part in the country's next elections in 2018, when he will be 94 years old. Mugabe himself has declined to name a successor, just as he has denied all allegations that his wife, Grace (49), was already running the show from the sidelines.

ac/gsw (AP,AFP, dpa, Reuters)