By Nomalanga Moyo
SW Radio Africa
21 February 2014
President Robert Mugabe turned 90 years old Friday amid plans by his party to splurge at least $1 million on a grand ceremony scheduled for Rudhaka Stadium in Marondera.
Mugabe is away in Singapore for treatment but is expected back in time for the event, according to his spokesman George Charamba.
However reliable sources told this station that Mugabe will not be returning in time, once again raising questions about his health.
Traditionally Mugabe’s birthday has become a time when he is praised and feted by fawning party officials. Last year for his 89th birthday, Mugabe received special-edition gold coins, 89 cows from ex-central bank governor Gideon Gono, and a giant birthday cake weighing 89kg, among many other gifts.
This year the ceremony is expected to be even more lavish. According to the state media more than 50,000 local and foreign delegates and party supporters are expected to help Mugabe celebrate his birthday.
Most of the local delegates will no doubt be thousands of jobless youths and hunger-ravaged Zimbabweans bussed in to witness a rich 90-year-old waste $1 million on cake.
Many people have questioned where the money comes from to fund Mugabe’s costly birthday celebrations, at a time when 4,500 families are yet to be evacuated from the flood-hit Tokwe-Mukosi area and 2 million Zimbabweans are starving.
ZANU PF officials have said the party, and not government, is raising the money to host the weekend extravaganza.
But ex-finance minister Tendai Biti told a regional newspaper that he was certain that the money will come from Treasury.
Harare-based SW Radio Africa correspondent Simon Muchemwa said traffic police had been roped in to raise funds for the event at numerous roadblocks set up across the capital city.
Muchemwa also said ZANU PF youths were reportedly demanding contributions from teachers and businesspeople.
On the streets of Bulawayo, several people told SW Radio Africa that ZANU PF and Mugabe were being selfish to spend such a significant amount of money on the celebrations.
“How can any right-thinking person celebrate at this time when the country is in tatters like this? Zimbabweans are experiencing hunger, and any responsible parent will not spend money partying when the rest of the family has no food,” Barbara Nyanyiwa told Bulawayo-based correspondent Lionel Saungweme.
Bulawayo resident Bekithemba Nyathi said Mugabe’s birthday celebrations amidst a sea of poverty are an insult to Zimbabweans.
“What exactly is he celebrating, a dying economy? Are we supposed to celebrate that people are hungry, civil servants have no money or that hospitals have no medicines?” Nyathi said.
“That money would go a long way towards repairing bridges, rescuing flood victims or even channelled towards preventing at least one company from closing down,” Grace Mathe said.
Crisis in Zim Coalition official Nixon Nyikadzino said Mugabe has over the years succeeded in replacing the positive things he did for the country, with the negative.
“He was instrumental in the liberation of this country and the education system he promoted during the early years of independence was second to none in Africa. Many people will give that to him.
“However, many people are most likely to remember him for unleashing violence on his own people just to remain in power. He will also be remembered for destroying one of the best economies on the continent, and also for pushing for a one-party state when everyone else was fighting for democracy,” Nyikadzino added.
Nyikadzino said Mugabe has tried throughout his 34-year presidency to turn himself into a demi-god.
“That is why even at 90 Mugabe is suppressing the succession debate. This is the time for him to be letting go of the leadership of the party and country but he is refusing to allow people to discuss what should happen when he is gone, and we will find ourselves faced with a crisis should he suddenly die in office.”