Mugabe blows €700k on birthday in drought-hit province
Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe marked his 92nd birthday at a party costing nearly €700,000 organised by supporters yesterday, drawing criticism from opponents who said the celebrations in a drought-stricken area were an affront to ordinary Zimbabweans.
Africa's oldest leader, Mugabe, turned 92 on February 21 and shows no intention of stepping down, much to the frustration of feuding members of his ruling ZANU-PF party, who have been long trying to position themselves for his succession.
Thousands of party supporters gathered next to the Great Zimbabwe ruins to pay tribute to Mugabe, the country's only leader since independence from Britain in 1980. Mugabe, who was accompanied by his wife, Grace, and their children, released 92 balloons and sat listening to poetry readings, songs and chants by supporters hailing him as an African icon and a visionary.
A giant cake made to look like the ancient ruins after which Zimbabwe is named, was set out in a nearby marquee. Schoolchildren, foreign diplomats, government ministers and security chiefs were also present.
The ZANU-PF's youth leader said up to 50,000 people attended and defended spending €700,000 on the birthday celebrations.
"Money is not the issue here. You cannot put a price on the contribution of President Mugabe to the history and development of this nation. All these things are worth more than money," he said.
Mugabe's lavish birthday parties have become an annual pilgrimage for loyalists and those seeking favours, but this year's celebration in the drought-battered Masvingo province proved particularly controversial.
In Masvingo, 75pc of crops were destroyed by the parched conditions, making it the hardest-hit in the southern African nation. Zimbabwe's worst drought since 1992 has left three million people facing hunger and Zimbabwe has appealed for nearly €1.5bn to help pay for grain and food.
"ZANU-PF should be utterly ashamed of hosting an expensive birthday bash for their ageing ruler, whilst more than 90pc of Zimbabweans are wallowing in grinding poverty caused by decades of misrule and mismanagement," said a spokesman for the main opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
Critics blame Mugabe for many of the problems facing the country. They say his policies, including the seizures and redistribution of white-owned commercial farms, drove one of Africa's most promising economies into nearly a decade of deep recession, until 2008, which cut its output almost in half.