Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe has been given an extravagant one-ton “royal throne” for his 90th birthday.
State media report that the throne is gold and diamond-studded and covered with lion furs, crocodile and leopard skins, and has two huge claws at the end of each armrest. It was carved from a solid block of stone and took almost two years for three artists to create it. It is topped with a golden crest, and the back is cushioned with crocodile skin.
The throne is known as “Simbahwe” in the Shona language, and, according to the Zimbabwean Broadcasting Corporation, depicts “Zimbabwe’s rich history, cultural heritage and spiritual beliefs and resources.”
It was reportedly a gift from Mr Mugabe’s cabinet, to whom its creators gave it for free. It was presented to him upon his return from Singapore, following successful eye cataract surgery.
Mugabe led a Marxist insurrection against white rule in the state of Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was then known, in the 1960s and 70s. His party, which describes its ideology as “democratic socialism”, took power upon the end of white rule in the early 1980s, with Mugabe serving as president since 1987.
Unlike in South Africa, Zimbabwe’s leaders have taken an increasingly vindictive line against white settlers and their families in the country. Most white-owned farms have been seized by government forces and party activists, with farmers and their staff expelled and often killed.
The country, once known as Africa’s breadbasket, has suffered food shortages and rampant hyperinflation.
Mugabe’s party is also accused of widespread voter intimidation and rigging of elections in order to keep themselves in power, leading to many describing the elderly president as a dictator.
He is unlikely to retire before his current term of office expires in 2018, when he will be 94 years old. Even then, given the stranglehold he maintains over Zimbabwe politics, he may still choose to seek another term.