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Saturday 1 October 2016

Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe told hold lavish 92nd birthday events amid the country's widespread drought

Published 22/02/2016 | 10:38

The set up is seen before Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe arrived for his surprise birthday celebrations State House in Harare. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
The set up is seen before Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe arrived for his surprise birthday celebrations State House in Harare. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
The Chief Secretary to the Cabinet Misheck Sibanda holds Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's birthday card while reading out a message to him at State House in Harare. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe , right, and his wife Grace cut his birthday cake at State House at State House in Harare. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe stands next to his Birthday cake at State House in Harare. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe addresses his staff during a surprise birthday celebration event at State House in Harare. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe. Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo/Files
Women gather grain spilled by cargo trucks from Zambia along a highway in Magunje, Zimbabwe. Earlier this month Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe declared a state of disaster in most rural parts of the country severely hit by a drought. Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo

Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe has marked his 92nd birthday with private celebrations while a massive event is planned for next week amid the country's widespread drought.

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The state broadcaster led bulletins with well-wishes for Mr Mugabe, the world's oldest head of state who has been in power for 36 years, while the state-run Sunday Mail newspaper published a 16-page supplement for the birthday.

"Mugabe's birthday is like that of Jesus Christ," proclaimed posters promoting the newspaper's special edition.

Public celebrations will be held on February 27 in the south eastern city of Masvingo, near the historic site of Great Zimbabwe.

Mr Mugabe's birthday has been publicly celebrated since 1986 and while political leaders would not divulge the budget for this year's party, in the past the event has cost up to one million US dollars for the transportation, accommodation and food for thousands of guests.

This year's party will be held as Zimbabwe is choked by a drought that has left over three million people reliant on food aid, mainly supplied by the United States and the European Union, according to the World Food Programme and the United Nations Development Programme.

The lavish birthday celebrations have been criticised by Mr Mugabe's opponents, but the president's supporters insist the party will go ahead as planned.

Ruling party politicians and businesspeople paid from 5,000 to 100,000 US dollars for a table of 10 at a dinner Friday night to raise funds for the birthday festivities. The dinner on Friday was sold out, said Tongai Kasukuwere, a member of the ruling ZANU-PF party's youth wing and the event's organiser.

"To be able to mobilise resources to honor one of Africa's finest icons during such a difficult time proves our resilience," said Mr Kasukuwere. "It is not like we are taking grain meant for drought programs to feed people at the celebrations. These are voluntary donors."

Outside the banquet, some Zimbabweans were bitterly critical of the birthday plans.

"Maybe they have no shame, openly feasting amid such hunger," said Denias Munongoza, 27, a college graduate who sells cigarettes and condoms to feed his family. "This year the president should have said 'no'."

"Mugabe and his cronies are planning to feast instead of attending to the resuscitation of the comatose economy and addressing the effects and impact of the drought," said Obert Gutu, spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

Press Association

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