— President Robert Mugabe turned 89 Thursday, declaring he still has a divine task from God to serve Zimbabwe.
Mr. Mugabe, speaking at a party organized by his staff Wednesday, said he received his task of leading Zimbabwe as God’s bidding, a commandment to serve the nation.
Mugabe, who has led the nation since independence in 1980, will run for re-election this year after Zimbabwe concludes a national referendum on March 16. If the president is re-elected, under the draft constitution, he could extend his tenure for another 10 years.
At 89, Mugabe is the world’s oldest acting executive. Only Israeli President Shimon Peres is older, but Mr. Peres is more of a figurehead.
In Zimbabwe, Mr. Mugabe is a man empowered with many day-to-day duties and ultimate responsibility as both head of state and head of government.
Critics wonder whether the president is still able to lead the country, and question how Zanu-PF, which Mugabe has led for more than 30 years, will deal with the issue of succession, should he win re-election but be unable to complete another 5-year term.
For perspective VOA spoke to Charles Mangongera, director of Policy and Research in the MDC Tsvangirai formation, and retired Major Cairo Mhandu, a Member of Parliament and Zanu-PF senior member.
Major Mhandu said Thursday was a celebration of the president’s life and also an important day to consider Mr. Mugabe’s future.
He said Zanu-PF was fully behind the draft constitution and the new clauses on presidential powers.
Panel With Charles Mangongera and Cairo Mhandu
Speaking on the questions of succession within the party, Mhandu stressed that they did not have any shortage of people to succeed President Mugabe. " ... that is why we have got a structure, a firm structure with the president, vice president, the national chairman, that is our hierarchy and we follow that.”
Mangongera, who questioned the tenure of Mugabe, urged the president, like others to seek retirement and hand over the reins to “those younger and with a different world view.”
Mangongera charged that Zanu-PF, though pushing for a "Yes" vote in the coming referendum, remained stagnant and unprepared to see leadership renewal within the party.
An annual birthday celebration hosted by the 21st
February Movement is expected to be held next Saturday, but in honor of the president’s 89 years, Zimbabweans on Thursday were encouraged to commit 89 minutes of social work to less fortunate citizens.