Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF party, politicians and heads of quasi-government enterprises and parastatals are falling over each other in a mad rush to donate towards the lavish birthday celebrations to be held this weekend for Zimbabwe’s veteran President Robert Mugabe.
Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980, turned 91 last Saturday. The belated festivities will be held in the resort town of Victoria Falls on Saturday. About 20 000 people are expected to attend the main event, which will be held at the Elephant Hills Resort.
The Zanu-PF Youth League is aiming to raise about $1-million for the event, which it is organising. Dozens of wild animals, including elephants, will be slaughtered to feed the guests.
The league has asked for contributions in cash or kind, but most Zimbabweans don’t believe there is good reason to hold a party at a time when serious liquidity problems have led to company closures and job losses. The government is also failing to provide basic social services, such as clean water, and massive potholes in the country’s roads are evidence of the deteriorating infrastructure.
Bigwigs’ generosity on display
But party heavyweights have played a big role to ensure that the celebrations are a success, and have added their donations to those made by other individuals and some companies operating in the country.
Leading the cast are the Cabinet ministers and Zanu-PF politburo members Jonathan Moyo and Obert Mpofu. They each donated 20 cattle and Mpofu added $40 000 in cash.
He is a former mines minister and has been in the headlines over the years because of his enormous wealth. During his tenure as mines minister, opposition parties and civil society claimed that money raised from the sale of the country’s diamonds did not find its way to the treasury.
The speaker of the House of Assembly Jacob Mudenda, who hails from the Matabeleland North province – which is hosting the event – donated two cows.
The two vice-presidents, Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko, were not to be outdone in the high-donation stakes and paid $6 800 apiece for portraits of Mugabe at a fundraising dinner hosted by the youth league in Harare last Friday. The auction of Mugabe portraits raised $26 400 in total.
Mnangagwa and Mphoko were both appointed after the party’s December congress, at which former vice-president Joice Mujuru, party spokesperson Rugare Gumbo, secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa and several other senior government and party leaders lost their positions. Mugabe and his wife Grace publicly accused them of plotting his assassination and of trying to oust him.
Cleaning up the town
Mnangagwa and Mphoko’s contributions at the fundraising dinner are widely seen as attempts to consolidate their positions, barely three months since their appointment. In addition, Mnangagwa’s wife, Auxilia, who is the party’s sole candidate in a by-election to fill a parliamentary seat left vacant by her husband’s appointment, is expected to grace a clean-up of the resort town on Wednesday.
The aim is to ensure that Victoria Falls is spotless when Mugabe arrives.
The youth league says it has raised more than $600 000 in cash and kind from well-wishers so far. According to state media, the Zanu-PF secretary for youth affairs, Pupurai Togarepi, thanked the corporate world for the “tremendous support” and urged all well-wishers to continue donating.
Ahead of the celebrations, senior government officials have also been holding interviews with state media, glorifying Mugabe.
Whitewashing the massacres
But it has not all been plain sailing. Mphoko has drawn a severe backlash from many Zimbabweans after he tried to exonerate Mugabe for his role in the Gukurahundi massacres of the 1980s in which 20 000 people lost their lives in the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces, mainly at the hands of security forces who had moved in to quell dissident activity. Mphoko tried to blame Western countries, but few Zimbabweans were buying his argument.
“I have always said the post-independence Gukurahundi was a conspiracy of the West. This I maintain … People can say what they want, but that was a Western conspiracy,” Mphoko told the Sunday Mail.
“Gukurahundi after the war had nothing to do with Mugabe – nothing! That is a fact.”
It is not just individuals who have been caught up in the frenzy of donations and well-wishing. The country’s parastatals have also come to the party, despite the fact that most of them are bleeding the fiscus dry and tottering on the verge of collapse, owing to poor governance.
The Grain Marketing Board, the Zimbabwe Power Company, the Zimbabwe National Roads Authority (Zinara), Mbada Diamonds and the state mobile phone operator Net-One have all taken out huge advertorials in state and private media to congratulate Mugabe.
Poor state of the roads
Complete with a portrait of a fresh-faced Mugabe, Zinara proclaimed its pride in joining the entire Zimbabwean family in “celebrating the birth of nationalist leader, father and visionary guardian”, and thanking God for giving him the “wisdom, strength and courage to lead our beautiful country”.
Zinara has come under fire for the poor state of the country’s roads, which for the most part are narrow, single-laned and full of potholes. The agency has been attacked even by Mphoko, who said it would be better if the administration of roads in Bulawayo was taken from the parastatal and handed over to the city’s local authority.
Mbada Diamonds has not paid its workers for months and, on Wednesday last week, Grain Marketing Board workers besieged the company’s head office and vowed not to return to work until their outstanding salaries had been paid.
The board not only owes farmers more than $52-million for grain delivered last year, it also owes its workers salaries for six months.
But despite all this, the party is going ahead in Victoria Falls under the theme of “celebrating the birth of Gushungo, icon of Zimbabwe’s revolution and champion of youth empowerment”.
A music festival featuring some of the country’s top musicians will be held at the Chinotimba stadium in the resort town to cap the celebrations.
The triumphant Mugabe will be celebrating his birthday against the background of his elevation as head of the Southern African Development Community and the African Union.