JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe turns 88 today. Yes, Africa's oldest leader is still kicking, and still holding expensive parties to mark his birthday in this economically devestated country.
Mugabe is expected to celebrate his Feb. 21 birthday with an oversized cake, the usual tradition, followed by an over-the-top rally this weekend in the eastern border city of Mutare, at an estimated cost of $1 million.
Zimbabwe's provincial governments have been forced to cough up for the annual birthday celebrations, which this year will include a soccer tournament (dubbed the "Bob 88 Super Cup"), a beauty pageant and a concert featuring Zimbabwe's top musicians, South Africa's Mail & Guardian reported.
Some 5,000 members of Mugabe's ZANU-PF political party are to attend the festivities.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe's state-run Herald newspaper today ran 22 pages of messages congratulating Mugabe on his 88th birthday, the South African Press Association reported.
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The Zimbabwean president's health is a constant source of speculation, but in an interview with state-run Radio Zimbabwe broadcast on the eve of his birthday, Mugabe declared he was "fit as a fiddle" and joked that he has "beaten" Jesus Christ.
"The day will come when I will become sick," Mugabe said. "As of now I am fit as a fiddle."
Mugabe is believed to be recovering from prostate cancer. Last year he traveled to Singapore and Malaysia at least nine times, which his spokesmen said was for check-ups following the removal of cataracts.
Mugabe's poor health is said to be a reason for the push to hold elections this year. Mugabe has already declared his candidacy.
In his Radio Zimbabwe interview, Mugabe joked about media claims that he was ill.
"I have died many times," he said. "That's where I have beaten Christ. Christ died once and resurrected once. I have died and resurrected and I don't know how many times I will die and resurrect."
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