Zimbabwean authorities have banned all political gatherings in the Midlands capital of Gweru in the run-up to celebrations of President Robert Mugabe's 83rd birthday to be held there at considerable expense, local opposition sources said Monday.
Funding of Z$300 million is being raised by the so-called 21st February Movement, a semi-official organization all of whose members were born on that date, which is the president's birthday, since Zimbabwe became independent in 1980. The expense has been criticized as as a poor use of funds in a country where millions of citizens are falling into poverty and hundreds of thousands cannot afford AIDS drugs
Despite the organization's name, the celebration will be held on February 24.
That Z$300 million is equal to Z$1.2 million at the official exchange rate of Z$250 to the American currency. However, at the prevailing exchange rate of over Z$5,000 to the U.S. currency in the parallel market it is about equivalent to US$60,000.
Mkoba parliamentarian Amon Chibaya, a member of the Movement for Democratic Change faction of Morgan Tsvangirai, said he had scheduled a meeting on Friday, but was told by police that all political meetings were barred until after the celebration.
Speaking from Harare, Chief Superintendent Oliver Mandipaka of the Zimbabwe Republic Police, said he was not aware of the ban on political meetings.
Chibaya told reporter reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the ban comes just as his MDC branch prepares for local council elections.