HARARE, ZIMBABWE —
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was expected to arrive home Friday after his annual holiday in Asia.
Mugabe, one of the world's longest-serving heads of state, will head right into a fresh debate, both inside and outside his party, on whether it is time for him to step down.
No members of the media were invited to the airport to cover Mugabe's arrival late Friday.
It may not be the homecoming Mugabe expects.
Time for a change
“I would simply say: President Mugabe, welcome,” said Raymond Majongwe. “You did a lot for this country. But I think for now, the time to go is now.”
Majongwe is the head of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe. He is one of the thousands of civil servants still waiting on their year-end bonuses. The government has delayed their salaries repeatedly over the past year.
Majongwe said Mugabe's opulent holidays abroad are increasingly out of step with economic realities.
“[We] are in a country that has no roads, no drugs; education is under trial,” Majongwe said. “Everything is not there; water drainage systems. It is just a catastrophe.”
A year of protests
Zimbabwe has been dealing with a severe cash shortage, and the United Nations says as many as 5 million people still need food aid until March, when the harvesting starts.
Last year saw unprecedented protests in the capital over human rights and the economy. Veterans of the country's liberation war, a key source of support, left Mugabe's side.
This week, South African opposition leader Julius Malema even called for Mugabe to resign.
The president has also lost some support from within his own party as competition heats up over who will succeed him.
Birthday celebration in works
In an interview with VOA, a senior member of the ruling ZANU-PF, Kudzai Chipanga, dismissed the critics and said the party is planning festivities for Mugabe's 93rd birthday next month.
“The celebrations are important to Zimbabweans,” Chipanga said. “Just like Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, because they look up to Jesus as our savior, but locally, we view our president R.G. Mugabe as our local savior, as our liberator.”
Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980.
Before the president left for vacation in December, he accepted his party's nomination to run for another term in the 2018 elections.