COLUMN: MARY REVESAI
Enduring famine at the banquet
In December, ordinary Zimbabweans struggling to put food on the table were confronted with images in the media of delegates to the ZANU PF people’s congress held at Goromonzi High School gorging themselves on inordinate mountains of food.
The incongruous scenes of lavish partying in the midst of austerity and outright hunger for the majority of the populace will be repeated this week when the Soviet-style 21st February Movement stages festivities to pay homage and show adulation to Mugabe. Companies and bankrupt parastatals are required to contribute towards the $300 million budget for the bash, to be hosted by the Midlands Province.
They are also expected to insert sycophantic advertisements in the media congratulating “His Excellency” on his longevity and expressing adulation for the Dear Leader. The secretary general of the Zanu PF Youth League, Absolom Sikhosana, has set the tone for the kind of ingratiation expected with his claim that Zimbabwe could do with at least “one million Mugabes”. Sikhosana, who looks more middle aged than youthful, urged young Zimbabwean to emulate the exemplary life of the man who has led the country for 27 years with such disastrous results.
This is why at Zanu PF functions, Sikhosana, who emerges from the woodwork regularly to act as chief bootlicker, cannot explain why only 100 “Born Frees”, that is 10 from each province, will attend the festivities when the 21st February Movement is touted as an organisation designed to benefit young people born after independence in 1980.
It is no secret that the majority of the youngsters attending the festivities who are supposed to interact and relate to an octogenarian old enough to be their great-great grandfather no longer celebrate their own birthdays because of the economic hardships their parents face daily.
Many more who were not invited to the food fest have been orphaned by AIDS and go to bed hungry. The large amounts of money being spent to focus attention on one man could be put to better use if the “birthday boy” were not so addicted to being hero-worshiped.
Instead of blowing more than $300 million on food and drink mostly for Zanu PF fat cats, the funds could have been channeled towards paying school and examination fees for thousands of so-called “Born Frees” throughout the country who have dropped out of school because of economic difficulties.
There are countless needy groups and worthy causes that could be supported. It is a sign of gross insensitivity and imperviousness to the suffering of the people for Mugabe not to feel any pangs of conscience or a sense of discomfiture about flaunting such conspicuous consumption for the sake of massaging his ego when many Zimbabweans can no longer keep the wolf from the door because of the ruined economy for which he bears the blame.
Aid agencies released figures recently showing that even more Zimbabweans than originally estimated will need food aid this season. It is indefensible that the head of state, whose violent and haphazardly implemented land reform exercise has ruined the agricultural sector, does not give a hoot about the plight of the people who now have to scrounge for basic commodities.
That he sees nothing wrong with calling for belt-tightening for the generality of the people while he and his cronies maintain and flaunt their opulent lifestyles does not portray infallibility and dedication to lofty ideals as Mugabe’s spin doctors would have everyone believe.
I read an article in a magazine not long ago about the wedding of Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh in 1947. At that time, the sun truly did not set on the vast British Empire but the Queen’s father, King George VI directed that there should be no lavish spending and the event should be mooted. This was in sympathy with his subjects who were still struggling under rationing and economic hardships caused by the Second World War. With inflation standing at almost 2000 percent and an unemployment rate of more than 70 percent, Zimbabweans are experiencing similar difficulties which are exacerbated by the fact that they are being endured in peacetime.
It is clear that whether it is through expensive galas, a fuel guzzling motorcade or inordinate globe-trotting, the Zimbabwean leader never thinks about the plight of the people and the need to empathise.
The 21st February Movement celebrations this year ironically serve to prove the veracity of a charge by maverick nationalist, Edgar Tekere that one of the reasons why Mugabe has lost direction is the cultivation of a cult personality around him.
Since the publication in December of his memoirs, A Lifetime of Struggle, in which he blames Mugabe for the ruination of Zimbabwe’s economy, Tekere has been under sustained vitriolic attack by Zanu PF apologists. These bootlickers have tried to paint a picture of the Zimbabwean leader as someone who can do no wrong and dismissed Tekere as a mentally unstable character who is not fit to criticise the supposedly saintly Mugabe. In a most un-statesman like manner, Mugabe has sarcastically echoed these cruel aspersions and dismissed Tekere as someone who should not be taken seriously.
But Mugabe’s eagerness to be placed on a pedestal and virtually worshipped during events like the 21st February Movement celebrations shows that he is the one who has gone “bonkers” as South African cleric, Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said.
For him to be prepared to see teachers, who are paid slave wages and live below the poverty datum line, being forced to cough up $4 000 each to make the day of adulation and feasting possible is to demonstrate beyond doubt how absolute power has corrupted him absolutely.
Meaningless and money gobbling oddities like the siren-blaring motorcade, the endless airport send-offs and welcomes that rob the economy of hundreds of man-hours and the 21st February Movement parties that benefit no one would not continue if Mugabe had not become so hooked on being idolised.
Zanu PF may stoop so low as to expel Tekere, but the fact remains that he spoke the truth on the quality of Mugabe’s leadership.
Mary Revesai is a New Zimbabwe.com columnist and writes from Harare. Her column will appear here every Tuesday
All material copyright newzimbabwe.com
Material may be published or reproduced in any form with appropriate credit to this website