As Zimbabean President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party prepares to celebrate his 87th birthday this coming weekend, critics say funds raised for the festivities should have been used to pay tuition fees for students at universities and colleges.
Critics said celebrations organized at considerable cost by the 21st February Movement to celebrate Mr. Mugabe's birthday create the impression that the the event somehow benefits Zimbabwean youth. They said Mr. Mugabe, who has been pressuring Finance Minister Tendai Biti to set aside funds for a controversial presidential scholarship program, should have used his prestige to raise funds for that program.
Reached by VOA, ZANU-PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo declined to disclose the amount of money to be spent on Mugabe birthday celebrations, but sources said it ran into hundreds of thousands of dollars.
A lavish party with plenty of food is expected at the Harare International Conference Center where more than 5,000 youths and ZANU-PF officials are to attend.
Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association spokesman Roderick Fayayo said the birthday celebrations are a non-event to most Zimbabweans. “This shows that we have a leadership crisis in the country with such festivities taking place at a time when many students are struggling to pay fees at universities and colleges,” Fayayo said.
Gumbo said the event will go ahead despite such misgivings. “People always criticize what our party does but now we are no longer concerned about that especially when we have to celebrate our leader’s birthday,” said the ZANU-PF spokesman.