About 100,000 guests are expected to attend Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s 93rd birthday celebrations later this month.
Mugabe was born on February 21, a date that has spawned “the 21 February Movement”, whose main task is to organise a birthday bash for its patron annually.
This year the celebrations are due to be held in Matobo, a scenic and popular but underdeveloped tourist area about 40km from Bulawayo.
It is also where Cecil John Rhodes is buried.
However, traditional leaders in Matobo are not pleased with the choice of venue as Matobo is a few kilometres from Bhalagwe, where victims of the Gukurahundi massacres lie in shallow graves.
The Gukurahundi deaths are a blight on Mugabe’s rule, with thousands having lost their lives in the mid-1980s following the targeting of innocent Ndebele-speaking villagers when the state was fighting an internal revolt.
The cost of Mugabe’s birthday party is unknown, but in the past such celebrations have cost millions of dollars.
Farmers in Matobo have been urged to “donate” a beast each, as a way of demonstrating their “appreciation” for Mugabe, and 150 cattle are targeted for slaughter.
Zanu (PF) youth league leader Kudzai Chipanga said the choice of Matobo resonated well with the youth league’s aim to promote local tourist sites.
“We went to Victoria Falls two years ago and had a similar event, we went to Masvingo last year, we were at Great Zimbabwe … and now we are in Matobo and we are in line with our theme of promoting domestic tourism,” he said.
However, political parties have been critical of the merry-making, which comes at the height of an economic meltdown in the country.
Jacob Mafume, spokesperson for the People’s Democratic Party — a breakaway party from the main Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai — said the country had nothing to celebrate at all.
“He [Mugabe] is the only person who celebrates the day he was born; for others it is a day of mourning,” he said.
The Zanu (PF) youth league has also been itching to have February 21 declared a public holiday, saying Mugabe was a liberation icon.
But the celebrations in Zimbabwe are likely to further upset already restive public servants, who have still not been paid their annual bonuses nearly three months after they were due in November last year.
The cash-strapped government, hard-hit by US dollar scarcity, is struggling to pay its workers on time.
A teachers union, the Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, said this week it had notified its employer, the government, to announce the bonus dates in the next two weeks or else it would embark on a strike. – Business Day