Even after the birthday boy had left, they kept coming. Thousands upon tens of thousands streamed towards Matopos throughout yesterday, creating a colourful and joyous sea of humanity only interested in honouring an icon of African liberation. Busloads, truckloads and carloads clogged the highway to Rhodes Estate Preparatory School where the 21st February Movement hosted President Mugabe’s 93rd birthday celebrations in Matabeleland South province.
Many more others followed the proceedings live on national television and via live streaming on online platforms.
President Mugabe was born on February 21, 1924, and this year’s theme – “Honouring our icon, unlocking value in youth” – was made manifest in the sheer interest the celebrations generated. Youth representatives from across Africa were part of the fiesta and they all had a common message: Long live President Mugabe.
First Lady Amai Grace Mugabe captured the President Mugabe’s contribution to the liberation agenda well when she spoke of him as “an iconic leader not only in Zimbabwe, but in Africa and beyond”.
And China’s President Xi Jingping also sent a personal congratulatory message. President Mugabe, clearly moved by the outpour of appreciation from young and old, had words of advice for the gathering: “Each woman, each man has a mission to fill in this world. You have a mandate, that mandate might run short, other mandates run longer.
“But your own mandate, your own mission, are allowed to run as long as you are still alive. You have to discover what it is and I cannot discover it more and say I am one amongst many and not just one among many, but one who has been made by the many, their leader.
“That, therefore, is the mission that I have, is the mission which has to do with the interest, the needs, the demands of those who have given you the position elected and I thank the Lord and say I accept the mission my Lord.”
The setting in which these words were said was quite apt, showcasing how far the nation has travelled from the days of Southern Rhodesia to the era of Zimbabwe.
On the one hand this was the heart of Cecil John Rhodes’ estate, a man who once had a dream of stretching British dominance from Cape to Cairo.
On the other hand was President Mugabe, the African man who led the decolonisation of Zimbabwe more than three decades ago and continues to be at the forefront of advocating for the total economic liberation of Africa.
The tens of thousands who congregated in Matopos yesterday also trooped to Rhodes’ gravesite atop the mountains whose cultural importance is central to Zimbabwe’s nationhood.
The distance travelled by the country could not have been more evident, no homage was to be paid to the coloniser, no kind words were to be offered.
A few “selfies” were taken.
“This fellow was indeed a fool to think that black Zimbabweans would continue to live under oppression of his kith and kin,” said Cde Walter as he looked with disdain at the grave.
Close by stood a group of European tourists, several of them clearly perturbed at the lack of respect Rhodes’ legacy was getting from indigenous Africans.
“We view things differently,” one of them said. “But it is clear Cecil John Rhodes has two different faces depending on which perspective you are looking at him from.”
The locals were more interested in singing “Happy birthday Gushungo”, and they evidently relished the fact of being able to do this not far from where CJR is buried.
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