Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe is fast approaching his 92nd birthday, on February 21st, and as in past years, it promises to be quite a high-priced bash, expected to cost US$800, 000.
While many are happy about the President’s continued long life, there’s some disgruntlement from certain areas, where cash-strapped and struggling citizens are finding out that they have to contribute to the party, despite having no source of income to feed even their own families.
This is the situation some residents in Masvingo Province said they are currently being confronted with.
Villagers and rural teachers in the province told VOA’s Studio 7, that leaders from the ruling Zanu-PF party have instructed village heads and headmasters to collect between $1 and $7 from locals, to help meet the $800, 000 target for the lavish birthday party to be held at the Great Zimbabwe monuments.
The villagers said forcing them to contribute money for the one day event was not logical as their families were staring massive starvation in the face due to severe food shortages caused by the El Nino linked drought.
Tedious Makore of Chimombe in Gutu said he is very angry with the ruling party as his family was struggling to afford two decent meals per day.
“We are not happy actually if you look at the economic conditions things are tight. We can’t afford money for food and send our kids to school but we are forced to fund a party for someone who is moneyed,” said Chimombe, adding that “this is not fair.”
Another villager who did not give his name, said he was surprised that the party could force them to fund the bash that they are never invited to, at a time their cattle were succumbing to the severe drought.
“I feel very disturbed by this. I myself have never celebrated my birthday since I was born, but right now I am being forced to fund someone’s birthday. Right now I can’t cater for myself and my family and I am losing my cattle with nothing to do,” the villager said.
Teachers said Zanu-PF officials met their district education officers who in turn instructed headmaster to collect the money from them.
Resisting the move, the teachers argued that their salaries were too low for them to afford to contribute. The teachers also complained that Zanu-PF was being insensitive to their reality, as they know that they did not receive their bonuses last year.
A teacher from Zaka who declined to be named for fear of victimization, said they were forced to pay $5 despite the fact that they were living from hand to mouth.
“Recently some party official came and had a meeting with our head. After that he called for a meeting with us and told us to contribute money towards the party. They said they are going to note our names down if we don’t pay and we are afraid. But this is not fair considering our low salaries.”
Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), President Takvafira Zhou confirmed the development, and said it was illegal to force teachers to pay for the President’s bash.
“We have received information to the fact that teachers are being forced in Gutu, Zaka, Chivi, and Bikita to pay extortionary money to fund the President’s bash,” said Zhou. “We have communicated to teachers to tell them that they must not pay that money, we are also writing to government to express our dismay. We want teachers to be treated professionally,” Zhou said.
When reached for comment by phone, Zanu-PF party chairman for Masvingo Province, Ezra Chadzamira, refuted the allegations, saying his party does not rely on funds donated by the poor, referring to the villagers and teachers.