The President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, has spent $1.2m (£610,000) on his 83rd birthday party while his people starve.
Mr Mugabe’s birthday celebrations are a national event, but because of poor donation levels from the beleaguered business community and from individuals asked to contribute to lavish parties across the country, it is understood most of the money to bankroll this year’s event would come from state coffers.
Previously, money to finance the President’s birthday parties and other events of his ruling Zanu-PF Party has been forcibly deducted from the salaries of civil servants. But with mounting anger among doctors, teachers, nurses and other state workers who have staged strikes over pay, that route might be too risky, leaving Mr Mugabe no option but to turn to state funds, sources have said. In Gweru, where the main celebration will be held, black farmers allocated land seized from whites were being forced to contribute in cash and in kind.
“We are being told that if it were not for Mugabe, we would not have had this land,” said a businessman who asked not to be identified. “So they [local ruling party officials] say we must honour the President on this important day by contributing whatever we have.”
He said that he had donated two cows for food at the event. More than 40 herds of cattle have been collected from the area.
In the past, Mr Mugabe has grown used to seeing Zimbabwean businesses vying with each other to give him all types of donations. But with the economic crisis biting and inflation spiralling to 1,600 per cent this month – thought to be the highest in the world – the proceeds have dramatically waned. With more than 400 companies closing in the past five years and more than 500 000 jobs being cut, there are fewer customers to pay for the birthday.
Emmanuel Fundira, a businessman and chairman of the 21st February Movement, a paramilitary youth organisation set up in 1986 to help mark Mr Mugabe’s birthday as a national event, pleaded for people to donate. But a source close to him said donations had “not been that significant” and claims that the target had been met were misleading.
One bank worker said: “I would rather flush my money in a toilet than make any contributions to fund this nonsense.”
in “the independent”