HARARE, Zimbabwe â€” Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who turned 93 years old on Tuesday, described his wife Grace, an increasingly political figure, as “fireworks” because of her feisty remarks in his defence.
A large celebration is scheduled for Saturday in tribute to Mugabe, who has ruled since independence from white minority rule in 1980. Grace Mugabe has defended her husband against critics who say it is time for him to step down, saying the ruling party should field him as a corpse if he dies before elections next year.
In an interview marking his birthday that was shown late Monday on state broadcaster ZBC, Mugabe noted that his wife’s remarks were shown on television.
“Fireworks, isn’t it?” he said, laughing.
Grace Mugabe’s political rise has been a source of consternation for opposition figures as well as some officials within the ruling ZANU-PF party who suspect she is positioning herself for a more powerful role in the government. The president described her as “very much accepted by the people” and said the women’s wing of the ruling party had chosen his wife as its head because of her political ambitions.
He described her as “well-seasoned” and “a very strong character.”
Mugabe also repeated his pledge to stand in elections in 2018 despite calls from some Zimbabweans for him to quit amid economic turmoil in the once-prosperous country and numerous allegations about human rights and election irregularities. The president said he was still popular and nobody is qualified to replace him.
“The volume of wishes for the president to stand, the number of people who will be disappointed is galore and I don’t want to disappoint them,” he said.
During the interview, Mugabe often gestured to emphasize points. He spoke slowly and was slumped into a leather armchair most of the time.
Farai Mutsaka, The Associated Press