21 February 2011 marked Robert Mugabe’s 87th birthday. He has lived long and many have remarked on how healthy and spritely he is. One hopes that as he looks back on nearly nine decades of health and life he will take time to reflect on what he has done to Zimbabwe.

Life expectancy in Zimbabwe has been reduced to 37 for most Zimbabweans, mainly due to ZANU PF policies. Most government hospitals, clinics and health centres have been reduced to ghosts of their former selves. Thousands of nurses and doctors have been forced into economic exile because Mugabe’s government chose to pay his Green Bomber militias better than teachers and nurses. Some had to run away from their rural health centres because ZANU PF ‘youths’ wanted to kill them. This left Zimbabwe with an understaffed and underfunded health care system.

While Mugabe has had a fruitful and ‘successful’ 87 years on earth, hundreds of thousands of children have died in the decade between 1999 and 2009 because they could not access health care. Thousands of mothers died in childbirth because they could not afford to go to hospital.

While his health is properly looked after by doctors and nurses in Malaysia and Singapore thousands of Zimbabweans are dying because they cannot access or afford proper health care. Many young people in Zimbabwe will not live to the ripe old age of 87 because of a variety of factors; chief among them the ZANU PF government policies of the last decade. This is the legacy that Mugabe has bequeathed to the children of Zimbabwe.

In his 87 years on earth Mugabe has achieved a lot in terms of education. We are constantly reminded of his many university degrees. Those of us who graduated from state universities in Zimbabwe will know that his degrees (earned and honorary) covered half the front of the graduation booklet. I have nothing against his achievements except that he took away from Zimbabwe’s children a chance to achieve the same.

Mugabe prides himself as the boy from Kutama (the village) whose mother worked hard to help him get a good education. It is, therefore, ironic that through his scorched earth policies many teachers ran away from village schools because ZANU PF ‘youths’ threatened to kill them for choosing to support the MDC. In some cases teachers were beaten to pulp just for being suspected MDC supporters.

Now Zimbabwe’s children can no longer write a Mugabe rags-to-riches type story for themselves because there are not many qualified teachers in rural schools. Some talented teachers are working in bars and restaurants, construction, warehouses while some are caring for the elderly in foreign lands because they were driven away by politics and poor pay. Thanks to Robert Mugabe. The quality of teachers has been drastically reduced ever since colleges started recruiting teacher trainees based on their political affiliation rather than academic qualification.

While he enjoys life with his wife and children, thousands of Zimbabwean families are without a father as a direct result of Mugabe’s policies – Patrick Nabanyama, Trymore Midzi, Talent Mabika, Tichaona Chiminya, Milton Chambati, Titus Nleya and many others who have remained faceless and nameless. Political violence has robbed children of the chance to see their fathers live to a ripe old age. Mugabe’s merchants of death have torched homes, murdered opponents as well as destroyed families.

I hope when Mugabe sits down to eat cake with his family, friends, cronies and supporters he will realise what an empty 87th birthday it is. Empty because the people are not celebrating with him; they are not praying for many more. It is an empty birthday because Zimbabweans can never aspire to a life half as long as his. A sad birthday to you Mr President!