Most villagers in the drought-prone Masvingo province, where the ruling party is planning to hold a lavish $800,000 birthday bash for President Robert Mugabe next month, say they are living from hand to mouth due to the current dry spell.
The majority claim that they are now surviving on eating wild fruits in a region where about 5,000 cattle have died as a result of lack of pastures and state-assisted stock feed.
Villagers are fuming that Zanu PF is planning to throw a birthday bash for the president when most of them can’t have a decent meal per day.
Baobab fruit porridge, tree roots and related wild pickings are currently saving the lives of people in Masvingo province, where the current dry spell has reduced fields into dust bowls.
Pastures have dried up with the caked top soil a clear indication that there is little rain to sustain millions of people and livestock. State and independent estimates have put the number of dead livestock at about 5,000 since December 2015.
EL-NINO FUELING ANGER
The dry spell appears to be fueled by the El Nino weather phenomenon that has brought a lot of heat in the region, widely known for producing top grade sugar cane, ethanol and related products.
Although the dry spell is visible and government is yet to resettle over 20,000 people who were displaced by floods near Tokwe Murkosi Dam two years ago, there is a lot happening in Masvingo province with a population of 1,5 million, half of them being threatened by the dry spell.
Meetings are being held behind closed door where some top Zanu PF officials are planning to throw a birthday for President Mugabe, who turns 92 on February 21st.
This has drawn the ire of local people, who say Zanu PF leaders are cold-hearted as they will be holding an event that is set to cost about $800,000.
BUY FOOD FOR HUNGRY PEOPLE
For most locals, all this money should be channeled towards buying food for the hungry villagers and the saving of dying livestock, which are the mainstay of indigenous people. A family of six in an urban set up needs approximately $500 per month to buy basic commodities like bread, sugar, cooking oil, mealie-meal, beans and to pay for electricity and related necessities.
One of the irate local inhabitants is Prosper Tiringindi, who says President Mugabe’s ruling party appears to have lost its bearings, literally, by planning to hold a lavish birthday bash for the country’s leader when villagers can hardly have a decent meal per day.
“To me it doesn’t make sense, we are facing a serious drought in Zimbabwe. The president must use that money for buying maize and other foodstuffs for starving villagers instead of hosting a flamboyant birthday,” says Tiringindi.
Other villagers echo the same sentiments, adding that the president is allegedly surrounded by people who only want to get political mileage instead of taking care of the needs of hungry people.
BIRTHDAY BASH NOT NEW
Another local villager, Mugovera Makonese, says the lavish birthday is not a new thing as the president has been doing this for almost three decades.
Makonese says, “(President) Mugabe is well known the world over for being insensitive. This insensitivity is nothing surprising. This is the time the government should be mobilizing resources to save the lives of the people who are facing starvation. It is extremely in bad taste for the president to use so much money to hold a useless function like this.”
Villagers say the ruling party, which has been in power for more than 35 years, should dump the birthday bash and start looking into the needs of all communities.
Pilani Moyo, a Mwenezi district villager, who is into cattle farming, says President Mugabe and his party should use the funds raised for the birthday party to buy fodder for millions of livestock, which can’t access water and pastures as a result of the current dry spell.
“It is very painful to hear that the president of this country will be hosting such a big party when our cattle are dying. We have since requested for assistance but nothing is coming and such amount to be used for only one day could help our cattle through buying stock feeds to save their lives. It’s so sad that we have such situations from our leaders,” he says.
ZANU PF REACTION
But Zanu PF birthday party organising committee member, Jeppy Jaboon, who declined to be recorded on tape, has strongly defended plans for throwing a lavish birthday party for the president, saying Mr. Mugabe deserves to be honoured in such a big way.
Jaboon, who is the Zanu PF Member of Parliament for Bikita South, says preparations for the bash are at an advanced stage.
This is not going down well with Zimbabwe’s opposition parties. Muranganwa Chanyau, regional chairperson of the Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai, believes that Zanu PF has misplaced priorities.
“As Masvingo urban MDC-T we really condemn that bash with the contempt that it deserves. Zanu PFF has no people at heart. How can they hold that party when over 500,000 people are starving in Masvingo province? They are misdirecting their priorities and we think they should have used that money to buy food for the starving people of Masvingo province.”
This is not the first time that people in Zimbabwe have been grumbling over the splashing of huge amounts of money for hosting the president and the first family’s birthday gigs.
Last year Zimbabweans were infuriated when at least $3 million was spent for a lavish 50th birthday party for Mr. Mugabe’s wife, Grace.