Opposition political parties and analysts in Zimbabwe have lambasted the country’s President Robert Mugabe and his wife, Grace, for hosting his annual banquet for his cabinet ministers, legislators and other Zanu-PF officials and members, at the State House earlier this week.
The banquet, an annual tradition of the President, follows a recently held Zanu-PF Conference in the resort town of Victoria Falls, and earlier in the year in February, President Mugabe’s 91st birthday bash, which cost a reported $1.3 million.
The online paper NewZimbabwe.Com quoted President Mugabe saying this year’s banquet was in celebration of the party’s achievements this year, from averting revolt from the citizens as well as hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier this month.
According to NewZimbabwe.Com, President Mugabe told banquet guests that, “a year like that needed to be celebrated, celebrated by us because of the resilience we showed.”
Describing it as lavish and out of touch with reality, given the country’s economic hardships and high unemployment, spokesperson Obert Gutu of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, said the banquet signaled the president’s disregard for his citizens, whom he said are living on $1 a day.
“When you look at a whole head of state of a country of 13-million-people, 80% of whom are living in abject poverty, who then goes ahead to throw one lavish party after another,” Gutu said. “That shows the whole insensitivity of a government.”
Gutu accused Mr. Mugabe’s government of tapping into the “bankrupt treasury” to pay for the banquet, and other lavish events.
But Zanu-PF has denied accusations that it has been using state funds to support such events saying the money is often raised through donations from party members and private citizens or approved state funds.
Political analyst and Zanu-PF member Goodson Nguni dismissed Gutu and other critics of the banquet and other events the party has held, or accusations of abuse of state resources.
“There is nothing wrong with us celebrating an end of year party for which we’ve worked very hard,” Nguni said. “It is provided in the constitution. There is a budget that has been constitutionally approved by parliament with MDC members of Parliament."
Further, Nguni argued that Gutu and the MDC party were equally responsible for the poor state of the economy because he said they facilitated the imposition of western targeted sanctions which Mr. Mugabe and his party have labelled illegal. Nguni also accused the MDC of falling short of tangible solutions to address the country’s problems.
“The opposition is completely empty. The only thing that they know is that they must fight on behalf of all commercial farmers against Zanu-PF. They have not shown that they have real policies.”
To the contrary however, Gutu said his party had been persistent in its efforts to address the economy, by proposing policies, all of which he said have been trumped by the Zanu-PF dominated parliament.
“Our members of Parliament have been actually shining stars,” said Gutu. “They have come up with alternative policies of what the government should do.” But, Gutu said, “the problem that we have in Zimbabwe is that we have a government that doesn’t listen to anyone. We have a government that is only concerned about its hold on power.”
In addition to the efforts through parliament, Gutu said his party had also launched various initiatives to improve the country’s economic and political environment such as its 247-page policy document, Agenda for Real Transformation (ART), its economic document Jobs, Upliftment, Investment Capital and the Environment (JUICE).
Gutu said on a wider level his party had also recently joined 14-other political parties and stakeholders to form the National Election Reform Agenda (NERA) to push for electoral reform, ahead of the 2018 elections.
Asked why Zimbabweans had not taken to the streets in protest over President Mugabe and his party’s lavish parties and travels, including his annual vacation to the Far East, Gutu said Zimbabweans, while resilient, had been cowed into silence by the country’s heavy-handed state security.
“Zimbabweans are very resilient people, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “But we should also look at the government that they are dealing with. We are dealing here with one of Africa’s, if not the world’s most ruthless regimes. We are dealing with a regime that has a record of clamping down on any demonstrations, on any forms of dissent.”
The government and President Mugabe have denied allegations of using force, saying Zimbabwe is a peaceful country.