Zimbabweans have reacted with anger over Finance Permanent Secretary George Guvamatanga’s lavish 50th birthday party held recently and his remarks that he would pay South African singer, Louis Mhlanga, five times the agreed gig price tag signed by the music maestro and his handlers.
Guvamatanga, who was caught on video at his birthday party expressing happiness over the musician’s performance, allegedly promised to wire an undisclosed amount of money to Mhlanga.
He told The Standard newspaper that he had the right to throw lavish birthday parties as he cannot pretend to be poor.
Guvamatanga told the newspaper that he earned millions of dollars when he was the managing director of Barclays Bank, which was sold to the Merchant Bank (FMB) of Malawi in 2017. The FMB awarded him a retrenchment package of US$354,293,37, according to the Zimbabwe Independent.
Guvamatanga is quoted in The Standard newspaper as saying he owns a big farm where he sells 500 cattle per year at a cost of US$2,500 each.
Despite these claims, some people have attacked him for allegedly spending scarce foreign currency on the lavish birthday party organized by his family, when millions of Zimbabweans are struggling to make ends meet.
In a tweet, media practitioner, Zenzele Ndebele, said, “The Perm Sec for Finance reminds me of Marie-Antoinette-Josèphe-Jeanne d’Autriche-Lorraine. One day the walls of Jericho will fall.”
According to Britanica, Marie-Antoinette, who was queen of France from 1774 to 1793, “is associated with the decline of the French monarchy. Her alleged remark ‘Let them eat cake’ has been cited as showing her obliviousness to the poor conditions in which many of her subjects lived while she lived decadently ...”
Investigative journalist, Hopewell Chin’ono, also attacked Guvamatanga on Twitter, saying, “It is either George Guvamatanga was misquoted, or he is a liar! In the article he says he worked for Barclays for 30 years and left 4 years ago, that is 34 years. He was celebrating his 50th birthday, so he joined Barclays when he was 16 years old?
“Don’t allow Varakashi to lie to you that George Guvamatanga made his money at Barclays Bank, it is nonsense and propaganda! George’s salary at Barclays Bank was US$16,666,67. His retrenchment payout was US$354,000. Don’t glorify corruption with LIES.”
Another Zimbabwean, Farai Maguwu, executive director of the Centre for Natural Resource Governance, has no kind words for the permanent secretary.
“In defending his squandermania lifestyle, Guvamatanga claims he worked for 30 years at Barclays Bank, until 2017. He joined govt in 2018. Less 30 years at Barclays we are left with 16 years. At what age did Mr Guvamatanga join Barclays? Age 16? If u subtract the 1 year he spent unemployed between 2017 and 2018 it means Guvamatanga joined Barclays at age 15!”
South Africa’s Afro pop stars - Mafikizolo and Makhadzi – performed at the lavish birthday party, which was attended by several top state officials and company executives, including one who allegedly paid for his trip to Britain to watch his favorite club, Arsenal.
Guvamatanga was not available for comment as he was not responding to calls on his mobile phone.
He dismissed claims that the artistes would be paid more money than they originally demanded.
Guvamatanga told the newspaper that “the issue of saying the artistes were paid more is not correct. The clip (video) was quoted out of context. I was saying to Louis Mhlanga, one of Zimbabwe’s most decorated musicians that if I had money, I would have paid five times more than we agreed. It was a tribute to Loius Mhlanga. You know that I cannot take foreign currency from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and spend it like this.
“I worked for a big international bank for 30 years and I was paid in offshore accounts. There are millions in that account … I paid between US$2 million and US$3 million in taxes, the records are there. Now if I paid US$3 million, ndakasara nemari? (How much money did I remain with?).”
He also said his package at Barclays, including a bonus was US$3 million. “It is all above board, I have a known offshore account, and have interests across most sectors of the economy, from insurance to agriculture to distribution and others. I will need you to come to my farm, I have 1,200 cattle. My business interest and wealth are known and everything has been declared. I cannot pretend to be poor.”
He told The Standard that he is a rich man who deserves to throw such lavish parties.
“… I cannot pretend to be poor to make people happy. I am not poor … I am doing national service in government.”