Harare — PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe turned 90 on Friday, marking a milestone in the life of a leader who continues to defy the odds and outmaneuver his younger political opponents.
Mugabe -- one of the oldest heads of state in the world -- often jokes that he has died and resurrected many times, in reference to stories and many rumours about his "death" especially around the time he goes on his annual vacation.
Not only has he been blessed with many years of life, but Mugabe has been in power for 34 years so far. He will be 94 when his current term of office ends in 2018, joining an exclusive club of nonagenarian presidents such as Malawi's Kamuzu Banda, who ruled until he was 96.
Mugabe last week spoke to the State broadcaster, ZBC in an interview to mark his 90th birthday. In the interview, he however looked less energetic than his usual self, somewhat sleepy and apparently forgetful.
He celebrated his birthday on Friday in Singapore while on a trip for a medical check-up.
Mugabe said in the interview, his only health worries were eye cataracts and a knee problem, insisting he was still as "fit as a fiddle".
Unconfirmed reports however claim he also suffers from prostate cancer.
But health experts say for a man his age, Mugabe still exhibits extraordinary energy and looks healthier than most of his peers and even some of his lieutenants who are in their 60s and 70s.
Mugabe said at the recent burial of his younger sister, Bridget who died aged 79, that he did not know how he had come to live such a long life. "It is all God's will," he said.
But in the past, Mugabe said the secret to his long life was regular medical check-ups, exercises and traditional food. He told ZBC in 2012 that he gets up at 5am every day for a long walk and has one hour of exercises.
A medical doctor, Rutendo Bonde said a healthy diet, exercises and regular screening for cancers were key to improving one's quality of life.
She said staying away from alcohol, eating natural foods instead of over-processed ones and managing stress levels were components of a good lifestyle.
"The President [Mugabe] takes care of what he eats and is not a smoker. It is also God's will that he has lived a long life," said Bonde.
While Mugabe has managed to live a long life because of discipline and access to good medical care, analysts said politically he has survived because of his cunningness.
Political analyst, Alois Masepe said from 1980 to 1990, Mugabe and Zanu PF survived because they were still enjoying a "political honeymoon" as independence was still a new phenomenon in the country.
He said the late Vice-President Joshua Nkomo's Zapu was put out of the system as a potential opposition by the signing of the 1987 Unity Accord with Zanu PF.
"Zapu was bludgeoned and beaten into retreat and submission, resulting in the Unity Accord," said the political analyst.
He said the formation of the Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM) by Edgar Tekere in 1989 signalled the end of the political honeymoon. But Masepe said ZUM did not make an impact because at that time people were either unwilling or did not yet understand opposition politics.
Masepe said in the 1980s and 1990s, Mugabe was also surviving because the country was a defacto one-party state with a very powerful President making all executive decisions.
"Politically he was surviving mostly by crook and foul up to the point of the formation of the inclusive government in 2009. It is also by crook that political negotiations gave rise to the formation of this GNU because the 2008 elections were stolen and no one recognised them," he said.
Another political analyst, Thabani Nyoni said centralisation of power, the use of divide and rule and politics of patronage where loyalists are rewarded and opponents ruthlessly punished, ensured Mugabe's political survival.
George Makoni, another political analyst, said Mugabe managed to blend dirty tactics with diplomacy for his survival. He said these included suppression of dissenting voices, citing as an example the case of Matabeleland and Midlands in the early 1980s, where the North Korea trained Fifth Brigade was deployed to crackdown on suspected dissent elements, but ended up killing an estimated 20 000 innocent civilians.
Makoni said during the inclusive government, Mugabe championed calls for peace and co-existence more than anyone else. He said when the MDCs were concentrating more on government; Mugabe was busy devising strategies which would make him win the July 31 elections.
Makoni said Mugabe also successfully managed to get the sympathy of Sadc and the African Union where he now holds influential positions.
"He has the art of reading how best to overcome a given political challenge and where there is a mess, he can easily clean it in the eyes of those who matter in the world," said the community development activist.
But Makoni said old age had finally caught up with him and it will be a miracle for him to still be fit come 2018.
"He is likely to retire before 2018. Vice-President Joice Mujuru is now literary running the show with the President always on the plane, going for treatment. He cannot defy nature," he said.
But other analysts said Mugabe was now pre-occupied with ensuring that he leaves a lasting legacy, hence his recent talk on economic empowerment and fighting corruption.
MUGABE IS A CULT HERO IN ZANU PF -- ANALYST
Political analyst Alois Masepe said immaturity and inexperience on the part of the opposition favoured President Robert Mugabe.
He said the opposition, particularly the MDC which was formed in 1999, failed to attract experienced people from Zanu PF, save for those from labour and civil society.
"They were and still are green horns fighting against a party which has gone through furnaces of political detentions, arrests and bush war since the 1960s," said Masepe.
He said the use of state machinery to destabilise the opposition had also ensured Mugabe's survival.
Masepe said within Zanu PF, no one had seriously challenged him apart from Nkomo.
He said by nature, liberation movements created cult heroes out of their founding leaders.
"He became a cult hero even before independence. Politically, he is untouchable just like Nkomo when he was still in Zapu," said the political analyst.
Masepe said those trying to succeed Mugabe within Zanu PF, were only looking at the post-Mugabe era and not a direct challenge to the 90-year-old leader.