President Robert Mugabe celebrated his 92nd birthday in the drought-stricken province of Masvingo yesterday where guests were treated to an obscene feast after struggling companies were coerced to donate towards the event.
The 21st February Movement has consistently organised the Soviet-style birthday celebrations for one of the world’s oldest leaders despite protests that such a public display of luxurious lifestyles of the elite is a slap in the face for the country’s bludgeoning have-nots.
The giant cake inspired by the Great Zimbabwe ruins — the venue of the celebrations — left many in awe.
Criticism of the bash grew louder this year, mainly because Zimbabwe is on the throes of a devastating drought that has left over three million people facing serious food shortages.
Mugabe last month declared a state of disaster after an assessment by the government of the current cropping season revealed that the majority of the maize crop was a write-off.
Zimbabwe destroyed its irrigation infrastructure during the haphazard land reform programme and there is no longer any capacity for winter cropping.
Therefore, the government had no choice but to extend a begging bowl to the international community where it is seeking at least $1,6 billion to feed the vulnerable until March next year.
Masvingo is one of the provinces that received very little rainfall this season and families are already struggling to put food on the table.
Schoolchildren are now too hungry to attend lessons and some of those who can still afford to do so, often faint because they have nothing to eat at home.
The province, alongside the Matabeleland region, has also contributed the bulk of the 20 000 cattle that have succumbed to the drought.
Pastures have been depleted and water sources are drying up fast.
As a result of the grim situation, there was a legitimate expectation that Mugabe would cancel the celebrations as a show of respect to the families in distress.
The president could have donated the over $800 000 raised for the party towards government programmes to alleviate hunger.
However, history teaches us that to expect such a gesture from Mugabe and his band of clueless ministers would be stretching things too far.
Mugabe and his government do not care about the suffering of ordinary people.
This explains why the president had no second thoughts about donating 300 head of cattle to the African Union last week.
The irony of a beggar making such a huge donation was lost to many of Mugabe’s hangers-on who tried to defend the veteran ruler’s gesture.
Zimbabwe is begging the international community to feed its people yet its leaders have the luxury to spend thousands of dollars on a birthday party.
Besides starvation, there are many pressing issues that could have been addressed with the money that went down the drain yesterday.
Thousands of poor children are dropping out of school because the government’s social safety nets are broken.
Poor villagers need boreholes to survive the El Niño- induced drought and thousands of lives continue to be lost on the Masvingo-Beitbridge highway because of the poor state of the road, yet Mugabe’s supporters have the temerity to organise such a feast that was televised live.
Mugabe once again missed a chance to demonstrate leadership by insisting on such a celebration amid despair.
Zimbabwe will once again be the laughing stock as the international media has an interest in this perplexing story of mixed priorities.