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lavish birthday plans slammed
Inter Press Service (IPS)
February 14, 2007
- Someone who’s managed to reach the advanced age of 83 might argue
that they’re entitled to a sizeable celebration. But this argument
doesn’t hold water if the person is Zimbabwean President Robert
Mugabe, says activist Tapera Kapuya.
million dollar birthday party being organised for President Mugabe
is enough to provide food for 3.2 million people starving in Matabeleland
for three months," notes the head of the South African branch of
the National Constitutional Conference, a pressure group based in
Zimbabwe’s capital – Harare -- that campaigns for a new constitution
in the Southern African country.
"Matabeleland has run out of food,"
he told IPS in further reference to the southern Zimbabwean region.
In a brief available on its website,
the United Nations World Food Programme says it aims to feed some
1.9 million of Zimbabwe’s 11.7 million people this year, if all
its projects in the country are fully paid for.
Funds for Mugabe’s celebration are
being raised by the 21st February Movement (named after the Zimbabwean
leader’s birth date) which was set up in 1986 for this purpose.
The group is run by the youth wing of the ruling Zimbabwe African
National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).
This year, the group is gathering money
for an event to be held Feb. 24. It appealed for assistance in an
interview published by the state-run ‘Herald’ newspaper Monday.
"From what we have heard they have
already raised the funds. By placing a statement in the newspaper,
they are just testing the water to find out what the public would
say," Kapuya observed.
Festivities will take place in the
town of Gweru, which is located relatively near Matabeleland: a
region neglected in the distribution of food aid, some claim, for
its open hostility to ZANU-PF.
"In Zimbabwe, relief food is distributed
through local ZANU-PF channels. We see it as something planned to
punish Matabeleland for not voting ZANU-PF in elections since 2000,"
The people of Matabeleland are also
bitter towards the Mugabe regime for committing atrocities in their
region during the 1980s, a campaign which caused the death of thousands
of people, according to rights watchdog Amnesty International.
"On top of this, you can imagine holding
a lavish birthday party next to millions of Ndebele people who go
to bed hungry each night," Frank Tshuma, a Zimbabwean refugee living
in the South African commercial hub of Johannesburg, told IPS.
The problems being experienced by Matabeleland
and Zimbabwe as a whole are compounded by the country’s runaway
inflation rate, which hit 1,593.6 percent in January – topping the
figure of 1,281.1 percent recorded over the same period last year,
according to figures from the state-run Central Statistics Office.
"People are living from hand to mouth.
They…are walking on foot from Chitungwiza to Harare -- a distance
of 20 kilometres a day. There’s no fuel, no food and no medicine,"
said Jerry Mashamba, a Johannesburg-based representative of one
of the factions of Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic
"Some are dropping out of schools.
They can’t afford tuition fees," he added, in an interview with
Kapuya has more troubling statistics
"The average Zimbabwean family is six,
and according to the Central Statistics Office’s recent release
such a family requires 720,000 Zimbabwe dollars (150 U.S. dollars,
at the black market rate) per month on average to survive," he notes.
"The average salary of a Zimbabwean
is under 100,000 Zimbabwe dollars (less than 20 U.S. dollars). Yet
a loaf of bread is 2,200 Zimbabwe dollars (about 46 U.S. cents),"
"In Zimbabwe, prices of goods double
every other day. The prices you find in shops are only valid the
time you are there looking at the goods. The following day the figures
Mashamba says only two categories of
Zimbabweans are managing the high cost of living in Zimbabwe: "Those
benefiting are Mugabe’s loyalists -- and then you have people who
have relatives abroad who send them money."
This weekend, representatives of Zimbabwe’s
180,000 civil servants demanded a 400 percent pay rise, threatening
to go on strike if government refused to heed their demand. Doctors
and nurses from hospitals in Harare and the southern city of Bulawayo
have paralysed the country’s health system since launching a strike
in December 2006, also over pay.
"Mugabe should have used the money
for his birthday to pay the doctors, nurses and teachers. Holding
such a lavish celebration makes him looks like uncaring leader,
which, I’m afraid to say, he is," Tshuma noted.
Mashamba agrees. "That’s right. All
of us are in exile because of one man -- Mugabe. The over two million
Zimbabweans in South Africa can trace the root of their (problems)
to Mugabe’s regime and his cronies."
Attempts by IPS to get comment on Mugabe’s
birthday plans from the Department of Information in Harare and
the Zimbabwean embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, were fruitless.
However, Mugabe has accused the opposition
and Zimbabweans living abroad of peddling lies about him and his
government. He claims the West, led by Britain and the United States,
has imposed sanctions against his government for seizing land from
some 4,500 white farmers to resettle landless blacks.
The reallocation of land got underway
after farm occupations initiated in early 2000, just months before
a landmark election in which ZANU-PF faced its first credible challenge
from the opposition.
Some accuse the ruling party of masterminding
the occupations in an effort to boost support ahead of the 2000
parliamentary vote which, along with subsequent elections, was marred
by violence and claims of irregularities.
The farm campaign and adverse weather
conditions are viewed as being amongst the key causes of Zimbabwe’s
inability to feed itself.
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