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Fury as Mugabe, the unlikely pop star, storms the charts

By Ian Evans

His country may be starving and the infrastructure collapsing, but the 83-year-old President, Robert Mugabe, has become an unlikely pop star in Zimbabwe.

The embattled leader's voice has been sampled on a new record called "Beitbridge" by an artist named Nonsikelelo, which state radio stations have been told to play.

The chart hit features parts of a speech Mr Mugabe made in the the small town of Beitbridge, near the South African border. With no hint of irony, the chorus has Mugabe saying, "Forward with developing Beitbridge", "Food to the people of Beitbridge", and "We don't want Beitbridge to lag in development. We are committed to the development of Beitbridge."

It is unclear whether Mugabe personally agreed to his contribution to the song, but local sources say his information ministry, which enjoys a large budget to spend on groups known to be sympathetic to the government, was involved.

The single – with a soul beat but a traditional Zimbabwean rhythm – is now in the lower reaches of the top 20 chart. "The president's voice is very distinctive – you can't miss it," said one record industry pundit.

An announcer at the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation told local media: "That one ['Beitbridge'] is being treated by bosses here as second only to the national anthem. They are so crazy about the recording and we play it at least twice in every hour. And that's an order, by the way.

"It's not by choice because no sane presenter would play that kind of stuff that talks about giving food to the people of Beitbridge when everyone knows there is no food to give. It's being spiteful, it's sick, immoral, insensitive and ill-timed."

Zimbabwe is in the midst of an economic meltdown. It is thought 3,000 people a day are fleeing to escape starvation and poverty.

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