'Opulence, abundance amidst poverty'

HARARE - First Lady Grace Mugabe celebrated her 50th birthday on July 23 with the climax being a “controversial” fundraising dinner in her honour which was held on Saturday at the First Family’s Blue Roof residence in Borrowdale, Harare.

The dinner reportedly raised over $3 million and comprised an attendance of over 2 000 delegates who each forked out $2 000 in what analysts say is an indicator to Zimbabweans that “Marie-Antoinette lite” was soon to take over.

Afghanistan-based political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said the bash was a clear reality of the inequalities in Zimbabwe and insensitivity of leaders.

“That is the reality of poverty and inequality in Zimbabwe — there are serious contradictions. You have islands of opulence and abundance in the midst of poverty, penury and misery. It also speaks volumes of the corrupt society where the elite get more than they need when others are barely surviving.

“It is really obscene, crass and insensitive for the government, First Family and corporates to be hosting such an expensive bash while companies are barely breaking-even and most are firing staff due to viability problems.

“Only insensitive and thick-skinned leaders can celebrate and host a multimillion birthday bash in such an atmosphere filled with paucity, melancholy, impecuniousness and joblessness — an economic situation where everyone is becoming a vendor.

“The corporate sponsors who are participating and supporting this bash are doing so to get political favour. How can they explain the firing of people yet donating generously to such a frivolous and extravagant shindig?

“There are no more corporate ethics in Zimbabwe but political patronage. It is sad,” Saungweme said.

Harare-based economist, John Robertson said Grace had “merely invented a way of evading suspicion” as the proceeds of the much-talked about birthday fundraising dinner dance are said to be earmarked for charity work.

“You see the problem with this issue is the fact that we are being told it is going to charity and I have no idea if this is true.

“My question then would be who is going to audit this process? We know it is her birthday and she is entitled to the pomp, but she should also be worried that they are fund-raising that much while the better part of the country is living on R5 per day,” Robertson said.

The renowned analyst, however, said the dinner was not really the first lady’s fault as she was not the one organising it.

Media activist Tabani Moyo said this is typical of a last super behaviour. “The more things change the more they remain the same. The trappings of power have a way of blinkering and at times blinding those whose lives are believed to end in the obits of state house.

“It is in a way an expression that the state has become a personal enterprise. The symptoms of such a belief of ownership of the State as a personal enterprise is the language and opulence that accompanies it.

“Throughout the birthday extravagance you never heard a word from those involved talking about issues of the economy, while other countries like Kenya are busy hosting entrepreneurship summits and promoting their nation as a prime destination of choice; we do what we know best. Retrogression. And more of it.”

Social commentator Blessing Ivan Vava said this is extravagance of the highest magnitude, for a country that is grappling the worst economic crisis in history. “What it shows is that Mugabe and his wife do not care about the continuous collapse of the economy and the poverty that Zimbabweans are going through.

“What is also shocking is how and where are they getting all those thousands of dollars to spent on Mugabe’s birthday, and probably if investigated properly we will realise that they are using tax payers’ money.”

Issis Mwale, another economist said Grace had let the people down through blessing the exorbitantly-priced bash.

“Yes, you see their argument is that it is her birthday and she deserves it, But one, who knows these so-called charities? Two, if she is such a sensitive leader, she should have refused to have this fundraising gimmick attached to her name,” Mwale said.

The dinner dance was attended by most of Zimbabwe’s well-heeled and who’s who in politics and business.

Known for her expensive penchant for glitz and glamour, the former typist in Mugabe’s office — who had her first child, Bona, with the nonagenarian while his late first wife, Sally, was bedridden with kidney problems — has often hogged the limelight for the wrong reasons.

Grace has often been heavily criticised for allegedly going on expensive overseas shopping sprees. It was claimed in 2003 that she had spent an astonishing $120 000 during one such trip to the French capital Paris.

“It appears that she is not sensitive to the social welfare and economic difficulties of Zimbabweans. She is a first lady and in the upper echelons of a public organisation, Zanu PF, hence her actions are always subject to public scrutiny,” said University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure.

He added that as such, “she should be advised to take a low profile in her celebrations. I am aware of instances were such celebrations have been suspended”.

Former Mashonaland West Zanu PF chairperson Temba Mliswa said the birthday bash was insensitive coming at a time companies are closing down and cannot pay workers.

“The problem has become part of the praise and worship team of the first lady and they do so to paint a picture that when they steal from the public, they have her protection.

“If Grace is sincere about the plight of the disadvantaged, she must start by asking whether the companies and individuals that have donated to her have fulfilled their obligations with Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra),” Mliswa said.

The voluble politician also revealed that one businessman who reportedly owes the national tax agency, Zimra overdue taxes in the thousands, had donated $50 000 to Grace’s much-hyped dinner while he also splashed $91 000 on Mugabe’s 90th birthday in February.

However, media columnist Nathaniel Manheru, who is widely believed to be President Robert Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba, was quick to support his boss’ wife saying she rightly deserved the “love” people were showing her.

“Can someone tell me, just who is threatened by the First Lady hitting 50 years of age? Or by her celebrating that age? Or by the fact of taking advantage of that occurrence to fund-raise for charity?

“Here is one lady married to the president of this country. By dint of her generous God, she turns 50 and chooses to celebrate that act of generosity. That simple, innocent gesture either piques or threatens some newsroom, and pens come blazing. Is it her age which provokes such editorial frenzy? Not quite, apparently. It is the goodwill expressed by larger society towards her, goodwill expressed by way of Press ads,” Manheru said.

Comments (2)


tony - 29 July 2015

when a mother has preferences when it comes her children there those that get easy there are those that now called misfits then you should no that you a opharn wait and see the missfits will kings what time is it like they say kunga kuyahlola niphile kuzokuyovalwa lingawaphansi sidllale ngalo some poeple will see thies and murders park but you pick a leg the and a hand there

hloni - 12 August 2015

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