It is the 85th birthday of President Mugabe this month and the zealots of his Zanu (PF) party are determined that it should be an occasion that their great leader will never forget.
In recent days they have been out soliciting “donations” from corporate Zimbabwe and have drawn up a wish list that is scarcely credible in a land where seven million citizens survive on international food aid, 94 per cent are jobless and cholera rampages through a population debilitated by hunger.
The list includes 2,000 bottles of champagne (Moët & Chandon or ’61 Bollinger preferred); 8,000 lobsters; 100kg of prawns; 4,000 portions of caviar; 8,000 boxes of Ferrero Rocher chocolates; 3,000 ducks; and much else besides. A postscript adds: “No mealie meal” — the ground corn staple on which the vast majority of Zimbabweans survived until the country’s collapse rendered even that a luxury.
Those who prefer to give in cash, not kind, are invited to send “donations” of between $45,000 and $55,000 to a US dollar bank account in the name of the 21st February Movement, a youth organisation controlled by Zanu (PF) and named after the date of the President’s birthday.
Western diplomats and aid workers were stunned when shown the list. “It’s just appalling. It’s like they are either completely oblivious to what’s happening in their country, or completely impervious and just don’t care,” said one. “It’s shocking and obscene,” said another, who noted that lobsters were unobtainable in Zimbabwe and would have to be flown in.
Others said it showed that the Mugabe regime had no intention of curtailing its excesses after entering a unity government with the Movement for Democratic Change later this week.
The Times cannot be entirely sure of the list’s authenticity but it came from a reliable source who was contacted by this newspaper, not the other way round. The source had no vested interest in its publication, was hesitant about releasing it and had himself received it from three or four separate businesses that had been approached for donations.
He said that in each case the approaches were made by groups of youths from the 21st February Movement who were aggressive and threatening, and warned that they would make life difficult for the businesses if they did not stump up. In most cases they are doing so because the cost of fighting the quasi-mafia that runs Zimbabwe is simply too high. Zimbabweans became accustomed long ago to the “elite” staging extravagant celebrations for the birthday of the increasingly reviled President — last year’s reportedly cost $1.2 million — but the organiser of this year’s bash is Patrick Zhuwawo, Mr Mugabe’s nephew, who seems determined to outdo his predecessors.
At the launch of the fundraising campaign in a Harare hotel last month, Comrade Zhuwawo, the out- going Deputy Minister of Science and Technological Development, said that thousands of youths and invited guests would join the first family for the celebrations in Chinhoyi, in Mashonaland West, Mr Mugabe’s home province, on February 28. He said that hundreds of cattle, goats and sheep would also be slaughtered for the lavish one-day celebration.
“It’s an important day for Zimbabweans to celebrate the life of our great leader and Africa’s hero,” he said. “Zanu (PF) continues to receive massive donations from the corporate world, ordinary Zimbabweans and from people from all walks of life and we are confident that this year’s celebrations will be the best.”
He even suggested that the event would raise funds for the underprivileged, which led one outraged academic to quip last night that this would include almost every Zimbabwean not invited to the party and that most would happily accept the extravagance provided that it was Mr Mugabe’s last.
Mr Mugabe’s birthday parties are seldom understated affairs. The celebration two years ago featured 20,000 guests in the Mboka football stadium in the city of Gweru, which was shown on national television. It featured giant cakes, children in brightly coloured sashes mingling with the “elite” and a speech by the President denouncing homosexuality. For his 80th birthday — which he celebrated in his home village of Kutama, 50 miles west of Harare — the day began with a Catholic Mass followed by a festival of school choirs, a police band and a performance by the gospel singer Fungisai Zvakavapano.
Zimbabwe’s newspapers often publish huge colour advertisements wishing the Old Crocodile birthday greetings from state enterprises that have been haemorrhaging money for years.
This year, however, the Zimbabwean media have reported that even some Zanu (PF) members have complained about the planned celebration. Dzikamai Mavhaire, a senator, told a recent provincial executive meeting in Masvingo: “We cannot fundraise for a single person when we have millions of starving Zimbabweans in the country . . . Only [Mugabe’s] personal friends and relatives within the party or outside should do that.”
2,000 bottles of champagne — Moët & Chandon and ’61 Bollinger
500 bottles of whisky — Johnny Walker Blue Label, 22-year-old Chivas
100kg king prawns
4,000 portions of caviar
8,000 boxes of Ferrero Rocher
3,000 cakes — chocolate and vanilla
4,000 packs of pork sausages
4,000 packets of crackers