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21st February: More of pampering than charity

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe will be blowing out a lot of birthday candles on Sunday. Actually, 86 colourful little candles. And he will need a good pair of smoke-free lungs to achieve this.

Mugabe’s birthday, a key national event on the calendar, will be marked this year in Bulawayo on February 26 with a night of music and feasting, according to Zanu PF youth officials.

Already the publicity machine is being oiled with radio and television advertisements now being broadcast.

Come Sunday, thousands will be congratulating “His Excellency, the President, Head of State and Government, Commander-In-Chief and first secretary of Zanu PF” on the event of his birthday and wishing him many more.

Suddenly parastatals, which are for the better part of the year invisible, will start showing up on the corporate radar again, showering His Excellency with flowery birthday messages in newspapers and disappear again until his next birthday.

The press will be delighted as well; advertising revenue will be flowing in their thousands. Birthday supplements always follow.

Apart from state enterprises, youths will be lining up at the feeding trough bussed in from the country’s various provinces and literally singing for their supper.

For his close lieutenants, it will be an opportune time to curry favours with the boss.

Traditionally, Mugabe’s birthday will see a wholesale slaughter of cattle, goats, chickens and a host of other edible animals.

The organisers are working hard not to disappoint him either. Letters have been sent to the corporate world with demands many executives cannot refuse –– “donations” to the 21st February Movement bash.

According to a letter sent to prospective donors, membership and association to the movement cuts across political, religious, ethnic, and racial considerations.

Zanu-PF Youth Secretary Absolom Sikhosana says the organising committee has sourced “adequate funds to ensure that this year’s edition is a resounding success”.

Sikhosana says 15 000 youths from various provinces are expected to attend. He said: “We are expecting to host more than 15 000 youths from across the country and this has necessitated the change of the venue from City Life hall.” Now the event has been moved to a bigger venue, the International Trade Fair Grounds.

Since 1986, Mugabe’s birthday celebrations have been organised by  the 21st February Movement, initially modelled on scouting and aimed at promoting children’s rights.

But the greater good to champion children’s rights and welfare has been forgotten over the years with the organisers pampering the Zimbabwean leader.

Three years ago, businessman Philip Chiyangwa donated US$110 000 for Mugabe’s birthday. Others do so with discretion.

Judging from past occasions, there will be a banquet, a gala dinner, a concert and a public feast at which dozens of animals are slaughtered.

Last year, the movement spent US$250 000 on his party.

For over a decade companies have been donating generously to the annual event. The organisers are determined to make a memorable day out of it.  An all-night bash reminiscent of yesteryear galas has been planned reportedly featuring local and international artists.

Years back, Zimbabweans became accustomed to various night-long bashes to mark this or that day.

Now after a year without bashes, Zanu-PF it seems still has more to offer. Mugabe’s birthday comes at a time inter-party talks to iron out outstanding issues of the global political agreement are teetering on the brink of collapse.

The sponsors of the power sharing agreement that led to the formation of a unity government are not happy.

Zimbabwe is facing a food deficit but that is unlikely to be an agenda item with everyone in Zanu PF attempting to get the party leader a good gift. According to the World Food Programme, 2,4 million people will need food aid this year.

On the economic front, investors are panic-stricken by plans to seize foreign-owned businesses. And no one is interested in calming them down. In fact, Mugabe is talking tough and claims that “49% equity is a hell of a lot more” than investors should retain.

The Affirmative Action Group, a black empowerment lobby group, is sending chilling messages to the Nigerian business community bordering on the xenophobic.

Civil servants have been on strike for over a week and the justice system is failing because of the industrial action.

Despite these problems, Mugabe has recorded an interview with the state broadcaster where he normally lightens up and cracks a few jokes to an over-indulgent interviewer.

And the usual guests are already in town. An American citizen with a soft spot for Mugabe, Coltrane Chimurenga of the December 12 Movement, is already in the capital. Many others too cannot wait to get to Bulawayo.


Chris Muronzi

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