HARARE - In a shocking development, it has emerged that the country’s poorly-paid civil servants are being forced to contribute towards President Robert Mugabe’s extravagant birthday bash to be held in Victoria Falls at the end of the month.
The secretary-general of the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), Raymond Majongwe, told the Daily News yesterday that Zanu PF bigwigs were abusing teachers by coercing them to help fund Mugabe’s mega birthday party, which includes chartering a plane to ferry select attendees to the famous resort town.
“In many provinces, people are being forced to donate towards the birthday and we now know where they intend to get the money to charter a plane and bankroll the expensive party.
“The money teachers are being forced to pay ranges from $1 to $10, depending on the school and the seniority of the teachers concerned.
“If it was Independence Day celebrations we would understand but not for the birthday of an individual,” Majongwe complained.
This is not the first time that struggling civil servants have complained about being coerced to make financial contributions to outright Zanu PF functions or national events such as Independence Day celebrations, and Majongwe feels that it is time the practice comes to a stop.
In many of the cases, it is civil servants who work in outlying areas — such as teachers stationed in rural areas — who bear the heaviest brunt of this thuggish fund-raising modus operandi by ruling party apparatchiks, who often threaten to unleash terror and unprecedented harassment on those who resist the coercion.
However, Tongai Kasukuwere, the secretary for finance for the Youth League, vehemently denied yesterday that anyone was being forced to pay for Mugabe’s expensive birthday bash.
“Preparations are at an advanced stage and we have got a lot of well-wishers who are willingly donating in cash and kind.
“If there are people being forced to donate to the gala they should report to the police.
“We are the youth league and we are accountable. We will not force anyone to contribute towards the celebrations. We have our traditional partners,” Kasukuwere said.
Mugabe, the country’s sole leader since Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain in 1980 turns 91 on Saturday. His birthdays are usually opulent affairs, with this year’s party scheduled to be held over the weekend of February 28 in the resort town of Victoria Falls.
Some Zanu PF youths have said that they were targeting to raise a whopping $1 million to bankroll the bash, with a super A-list of the country’s top entertainers billed to perform at the gala.
But Kasukuwere dismissed the $1 million target.
“We are not targeting anything. We have been assisted by the hotels in Victoria Falls. We do not want people to starve so we will make sure that food is available. It’s not about the amount that we will raise but making sure that people do not starve and get somewhere to sleep,” Kasukuwere said.
He said more than 100 children, aged between seven and 15 and drawn from all the country’s provinces, would be flown from Harare to Victoria Falls.
“We want to promote domestic tourism and we are especially targeting the 21sters, who are children aged between seven and 15,” Kasukuwere said.
All in all, at least 20 000 people are expected to attend the enormous celebrations over the birthday weekend.
While some party supporters like Tendai Musasa have willingly donated game meat and a lion trophy — worth a reported $100 000, 00 — other business people and companies have also quietly said that they were being coerced “as usual” to donate towards the annual event, which Zanu PF youths want turned into a national holiday.
And with Zanu PF holding the keys to lucrative government contracts, mining licences and virtually everything else happening in the country, many businesses hoping to curry favour with the ruling party have made it a habit to contribute towards the celebrations.
Last year saw 90 balloons being released into the air from Rudhaka Stadium in Marondera, where a huge cake was on display and 90 beasts were slaughtered for the festivities.
Obert Gutu, spokesperson of the opposition MDC, said it was obscene that such an expensive jamboree was being held at a time that Zimbabweans were wallowing in poverty.
“The MDC calls upon the proposed Robert Mugabe birthday bash scheduled to take place in Victoria Falls on February 28, 2015 to be called off.
“All the money that has been collected to bankroll this obscene jamboree should be immediately channelled towards rehabilitating the collapsed public hospitals, clinics and rural schools in Matabeleland North Province,” Gutu said.
Mugabe’s lavish birthday party will take place following recent revelations by economists that average incomes in Zimbabwe are now at their lowest levels in 60 years, and that about 65 percent of adults are having to make do with less than $100 a month — well below the poverty datum line.
Economists say poverty levels have reached “numbing levels”, amid indications that the situation will worsen in 2015 and beyond, as Mugabe and his Zanu PF government continue to demonstrate their inability to fix Zimbabwe.
According to the latest FinScope Consumer Survey that was released on Monday, and which was commissioned by FinMark and Zimstat, the country’s deteriorating economic conditions were forcing more and more cash-strapped citizens to live on the margins of society and without basic necessities such as food and water.
FinMark project manager, Obert Maposa, said the number of desperately poor Zimbabweans living was increasing at an alarming rate, with community access to clean water, for example, declining in the past four years, with only 29 percent having piped running water compared with 35 percent in 2011.
“The percentage of people who have had to skip a meal due to lack of money went up to 44 percent in 2014, from 29 percent four years ago, while 37 percent have gone without treatment or medicine because of lack of money, compared with 20 percent in 2011,” he said.
As a result, commentators told the Daily News that the country’s deepening economic crisis, which was worsening the already high levels of unemployment, necessitated the need for dialogue among political parties in an effort to find lasting solutions to the myriad crises.
Economist Christopher Mugaga said with the massive company closures that had been witnessed over the past few years, “it’s only a matter of time before the economy totally collapses”.
“The informalisation of the economy is a good sign of worsening poverty levels in the country. There is no way the current government would be able to save the economy without extending a hand to the opposition,” he said.
And with just two months into the new year, many struggling ordinary Zimbabweans say that they have lost all hope in the political and economic course that the country is taking.
Tens of thousands of vendors fighting for survival on congested urban streets were recently told by Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo to move out of the central business district as they were allegedly not just causing congestion, but the main culprits behind the littering problem afflicting major cities.
However, economic commentators said that the government’s move, while potentially noble, was ill-timed considering that companies were closing en masse and the job market had collapsed since the turn of the millennium.
And as the ugly factional and succession wars continue to take centre stage in the ruling Zanu PF, economic experts also say there is little chance of economic growth this year, or the next.