He started out much like Mandela did – a prisoner-turned-freedom fighter, who rose to political prominence in Zimbabwe after the successful leadership of African rebel groups against minority white rule.
But unlike Mandela, his wolfish desire to grab power by the throat and refuse, under any circumstances, to let go, ultimately led to Robert Mugabe becoming one of the continent’s most notorious villains.
After seven terms and 34 years at the top (and still refusing to step down), he’s the oldest African President in history, and the second most senior ruler in the world behind Israeli President Shimon Peres (who has 203 days on Mugabe).
And as he celebrated his 90th birthday party this Sunday he marked it with a lavish £600,000 party in the town of Marondera.
"Turning 90 is no mean feat," youth leader for Mugabe’s party Zanu-PF Absalom Sikhosana told reporters recently, the Scotsman reports. "You cannot turn 90 years when you are a womaniser, a drunkard or a chain smoker. We will be celebrating the life of a very special person on a special occasion."
There had been speculation whether he would actually make the grand event himself – Mugabe has been holed up in a private hospital in Singapore undergoing eye surgery, his spokesman George Charamba confirmed.
"There is nothing more than that, nothing serious," he continued, further dismissing speculation that Mugabe is struggling with a myriad of health problems, before adding he would be back to cut the cake "well in time".
Will it be a beastly 89kg novelty sponge, as per his 89th birthday this time last year? And will he again mint gold coins embossed with his images of his own face to mark the occasion?
We’re not sure we’ll ever find out, because there isn’t a chance in hell we’d ever RSVP. And this is why no other human being should turn up either.
1) Because Zimbabwe’s economy is in a state of collapse…
Heavy job losses see companies getting rid of hundreds of employees every week, slowing economic growth to a chuntering halt and ensuring the once prosperous nation is sent spiralling into a “severe and persistent liquidity crunch” that recalls the disastrous downturn the nation suffered five years previously. Yes, the same downturn that left thousands without food and clean water. And yet still Mugabe is able to fork out £600,000 for a party.
"People are asking where the money’s coming from," Harare economist Vince Musewe said. "One million kids are out of school, there’s this Tokwe-Mukorsi Dam disaster [causing floods that have displaced millions] and people are having parties. It’s just irresponsible."
2) Because what he’s about to spend on cake could go towards tackling the water sanitation crisis, which has claimed more than 4,000 lives in Harare in the last five years…
Severe sanitation issues in Zimbabwe’s capital city mean that residents continue to be exposed to a high risk of waterborne diseases, including cholera, Human Rights Watch confirmed in a report in November 2013. This is due to the collapse in public water services, meaning that citizens are forced to drink from shallow, unprotected wells contaminated with human waste and other sewage.
3) Because, despite unemployment and poverty cause by the economic collapse, he has reportedly asked teachers and soldiers to pay for his party…
Apparently, in previous years, Mugabe’s parties were largely funded by cash and cattle. But they often went missing. So this year, according to a report in independent Zimbabwean newspaper Newsday, fundraisers have asked teachers and soldiers to stump up £1.20 each to help reach the £600,000 needed.
"This is extortion," Raymond Majongwe, head of the Progressive Teachers’ Union if Zimbabwe was quoted as saying. "Why are they milking a stone? Teachers have no money."
4) Because his appalling human rights track record makes him far from endearing…
More than 200 activists and journalists died opposing Mugabe’s dictatorship during the country’s 'elections' in 2008. A relative drop in the ocean compared to the 20,000-30,000 who perished in the mass genocide of the Gukurahundi, the civilians of the Matabeleland and Midlands, in 1982. Mugabe planned their ‘reorientation’ after he failed to win any seats in the region.
5) Because what he says about homosexuality makes Putin look like a pussy cat…
Gay Zimbabwean citizens, according to Mugabe, are "worse than dogs and pigs". He also threatened them with beheading.
"We made it clear that in our law homosexual activities are criminalized and that any person who commits homosexual activities will be arrested," Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa told U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in an urgent meeting in 2012.
6) Because thousands lost their homes and livelihood during the Land Reform Programme of 2000…
It was billed as an attempt to correct colonialist legacy by giving white-owned farms back to landless black people. But many actually saw the reform as a crude attempt to sideline Mugabe’s first political threat, the Movement for Democratic Change, organised by trade unions and political activists and partly funded by white farmers. It saw hundreds of property owners forcibly evicted by vigilante war veterans, their homes handed to black Zimbabweans, many of whom lacked the skills and finances to manage the farms. Some also fell under the possession of Mugabe’s cronies. The move had a big impact on the nation’s struggling economy. Soon, it relied on foreign aid to feed its civilians, and thousands fled the country to escape the disaster.
And these are but a few low-lights of a catastrophic dictatorship that continues to claim lives. And for that reason, Mugabe, we’re afraid we can’t make it.