Critics condemn costly plans for Mugabe’s 90th birthday bash

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 February, 2014, 9:35pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 February, 2014, 9:35pm


Plans for a lavish US$1 million celebration of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's 90th birthday have been condemned as the country lurches towards another financial crisis.

The tribute to Africa's oldest head of state - and world's oldest after Israel's Shimon Peres - is expected to surpass last year's party, when gold coins were minted and he was presented with a cake said to weigh 89kg.

But the costly event will come amid heavy job losses, slowing economic growth, and what the central bank describes as a "severe, persistent liquidity crunch".

Mugabe, who continues to defy the march of time and constant health speculation, travelled to Singapore this week for cataract surgery on his left eye, according to his spokesman.

But he is expected back in time for his birthday celebration with thousands of supporters in Marondera town on Sunday, two days after he turns 90.

Absalom Sikhosana, secretary for youth affairs in Mugabe's Zanu-PF party, told reporters recently: "This is a very special celebration. Turning 90 is no mean feat. You cannot turn 90 years when you are a womaniser, a drunkard or a chain smoker.

"We will be celebrating the life of a very special person on a very special occasion."

It is a milestone in the history of the country, which has known no other leader since gaining independence from Britain in 1980. But activists and opposition politicians have described the event as an extravagant waste of money when many citizens are going hungry.

"It would be inappropriate for a head of state to have such a lavish celebration at a time when the country is faced with the disaster of flooding and a crumbling economy," Dewa Mavhinga, a Zimbabwe researcher at Human Rights Watch, said.

"It's about cultism, hero worship, institutionalising Mugabe, with sycophants around him trying to oil the wheels of patronage. There's an entire system behind this corruption."

On Mugabe's 34 years in power, Mavhinga said: "His human rights record is one that no one can honestly admire. There is nothing to celebrate about his birthday or his legacy - and there are concerns that, if something should happen to him, the country might be plunged into chaos if there is no clear mechanism for transition."

Officially, funds for the birthday bash are being raised by the Zanu-PF youth league and not from the public purse. But Tendai Biti, who was finance minister until his party lost heavily to Zanu-PF in elections last year, said: "When I was finance minister, we never contributed a cent, but I've absolutely no doubt that they will get money from the treasury this time."