President Robert Mugabe’s closest allies want his 92nd birthday next month to be declared a national holiday.
Former information minister Jonathan Moyo on Tuesday joined a growing chorus of voices pressing for the day to be declared work-free. But not everyone thinks it’s a good idea.
Moyo tweeted: “All things considered & without prejudice, 21st February deserves to be a public holiday celebrated as #RobertMugabeDay in Zimbabwe!”
ZANU-PF’s youth secretary Pupurai Togarepi told this week’s Sunday Mail,”Many countries across the world honour their heroes in a similar way and I don’t see the reason we can’t do it now. In South Africa there is Nelson Mandela Day.”
The state ZBC broadcaster has also reported that two church leaders have echoed the calls for a Robert Mugabe Day to be declared in honour of the president, who has been in power in Zimbabwe since 1980.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and other critics say Mugabe’s controversial policies have precipitated years of economic crisis, food shortages and the departure of hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans looking for a better life in the diaspora.
Dewa Mavhinga, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch tweeted,”Many will agree that the #Mugabe day proposal is reckless.”
But the Zimbabwe president and his allies maintain that Western sanctions have destroyed the economy.
Ruling party officials meantime are in the process of “identifying” firms they will ask to fund the birthday party, defying the MDC which says that locals should not contribute, the state-owned Chronicle reports.
The country’s struggling 10 provinces have been told they must each raise nearly 500 000 rand for the bash.
“We will engage the business community before holding our fund-raising dinner,” Colleta Shoko, ZANU-PF’s secretary for information and publicity in Bulawayo told the state-owned Chronicle.
Officials have not confirmed claims in the private press that the party – billed as the “best ever” for the president – will cost 800 000 US dollars.
Youth secretary Togarepi told the Sunday Mail that no-one was going to be “forced” to contribute.
“But you need to appreciate that an event of such magnitude needs support,” he said.
In previous years some businesses have complained that a certain amount of coercion has been used to raise birthday funds.
Mugabe himself has only just returned from a month’s vacation in the Far East and Dubai with his family.
There are conflicting reports about the venue of the party, with state media reporting variously that it will be held at the Great Zimbabwe monument near Masvingo or in a stadium in the city itself.
Critics say the money could be better spent elsewhere in a country where drought has ravaged crops and hunger is predicted to rise.
Major government hospitals are desperately short of drugs and, in the city of Bulawayo, of doctors too.