President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe turned 84 on Thursday against a backdrop of economic collapse, political divisions and mounting challenges to his leadership.
He marked the occasion with a surprise party for his staff at Zimbabwe House, next door to State House, his official residence.
President Mugabe urged his supporters to campaign hard to make sure ZANU-PF gains a resounding victory March 29 elections. He said supporters must “ward off those who would seek to bring down Zimbabwe," a source in attendance said.
Mr. Mugabe is seeking re-election in what is essentially a three-way race pitting him against Movement for Democratic Change founding president Morgan Tsvangirai and former finance minister Simba Makoni, recently cast out of the ruling party.
Minister of State Webster Shamu, patron of the Zimbabwe Union of Musicians, has brought out an album of audio and video musical tributes to Mr. Mugabe.
The ruling ZANU-PF party has raised more than Z$3 trillion dollars (US$150,000) for a presidential birthday party Saturday in Beitbridge, on the border with South Africa.
ZANU-PF parliamentarian Andrew Langa, chairman of the 21st February Movement, a group formed long ago in homage to Mugabe, commended contributors - though some companies and resettled farmers said they were compelled to make donations.
National Constitutional Assembly Director Earnest Mudzengi told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that there is nothing to celebrate.
More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...