Zimbabwe’s President, Robert Mugabe, is among several world leaders gathered in New York for the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly.
However, prior to his departure, President Mugabe, who will address the General Assembly Thursday, sparked a whirl wind of discussion among Zimbabweans because of his large delegation of more than 70, that includes his wife, children and grandchild.
Critics argue that the delegation, reportedly receiving daily stipends of $1,500 each, is irresponsible at a time when the country’s economy is struggling due to lack of investment and massive unemployment.
Making reference to various images showing President Mugabe sleeping through discussions, Fortune Mlalazi of the opposition People’s Democratic Party led by former finance minister Tendai Biti, said there was no purpose for the Zimbabwean leader being there.
“There is only one thing the president is there to do, that is to sleep or we can substitute it with insulting others. That is the best that the president can do there in New York. He has got no meaningful contribution to the country or to the world.”
However, Joseph Tshuma, a legislator and member of the ruling Zanu-PF party, dismissed the criticism, saying that President Mugabe is right to attend the meetings as he plays a crucial role at forums such as the United Nations General Assembly.
“There are a lot of agreements that take place there, there are so many conventions that have come out of those forums, and for the president to be part of that is very essential. If you remember back then, there was the issue of the Security Council, that the president and some other African leaders had stood for until Africa was also recognized … So it’s still correct for the president to go to those kind of forums so that he advances our cause as Africa and as Zimbabwe. As Africa really we need to engage those people and they need to see the collective voices of Africa standing up to say we are equal to you – the first world countries.”
Tshuma noted that critics of President Mugabe have no real basis to question the president’s trips.
“Such is life, even Jesus was criticized. They called him a gluton and a drunkard, yet he was the Messiah. So we don’t expect anything else as well. If you are the president you are in the center of the storm so those criticisms are bound to come your way.”
But Mlalazi said there is no proof of any outcome of the agreements signed, or benefits to Zimbabwe.
“There are no agreements, no one wants to sign agreements with Mugabe or rather they should show us some of those agreements and they are success. We have seen people coming here, promising to come back with investment but they all disappear.”
Further sparking debate about President Mugabe’s trip to New York with his family, was a picture that went viral Tuesday, of son Bellarmine Chatunga at a McDonald’s outlet, and his security aides carrying shopping bags from high end stores like Gucci.
Mlalazi said this is the trend that the first family has been showing for some time.
“It doesn’t surprise us. Remember this whole thing started with the father, then came the mother, now it is with the children. It is also going to cascade down to the grandchildren, this shopping thing. They do it at the expense of poor Zimbabweans.”
But Tshuma raised issue with this argument, saying all young kids like high end merchandize. Tshuma said contrary to belief that the government is paying for the family’s expenses, the first family has enough of its own resources to foot the bill.
“Let’s be honest here and sincere, I would wish for my child to get whatever the best value in life and so would you and so would anybody. And so if the president’s son, decides to get something good for himself, and specially also considering that he is not taking money from the fiscus, he’s not taking money from government because we must remember that this very first family we are talking about is an entrepreneurial family – we know they are running businesses here in Zimbabwe.”
Mlalazi, however, questioned the productivity levels from the Alpha and Omega Dairy company that the first family owns, saying many in Zimbabwe cannot afford the company’s products, also known as Gushungo.
“All what we know is that farm, Gushungo Dairies, produces poison and no one buys that poison. In simpler terms they are producing ice cream and all these other small things. Zimbabweans cannot afford to buy ice cream so where are they getting that money from. They cannot sell ice cream and buy Gucci.”
President Mugabe, who is contesting in the 2018 presidential election, will address the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday.