PREVIEW: Feast planned for Mugabe's 85th in hunger-ravaged Zimbabwe
Feb 20, 2009, 11:52 GMT
Johannesburg/Harare - More than 100,000 US dollars is expected to be spent on Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe's 85th birthday party next week - while more than half his country's population lives in dire poverty.
Africa's oldest leader turns 85 this Saturday, with a lavish party to follow on February 28.
Earlier this month a fund raising event was organized by Mugabe's Zanu PF's youth wing and pledges of 110,000 US dollars were made for the birthday party.
Others promised rice, cattle, goats, pigs, bread, tomatoes, and maize-meal for the birthday party, despite much of the country's population facing severe hunger.
The party is due to take place in a farming town of Chinhoyi, the capital town of his rural home province of Mashonaland West.
Speaking on national radio earlier this week, Absolom Sikhosana, Zanu PF's youth leader, admitted raising funds for this year celebrations have been more difficult.
'We are appealing to those who have pledged for the 21st February Movement (Mugabe's birthday) celebrations to make good their promises,' said Sikhosana on Tuesday.
'We know things are tough, but it would be nice to honour the pledges you made.'
Another fund-raising dinner dance is scheduled for the eve of Mugabe's birthday. Patrick Zhuwawo, Mugabe's nephew, told the state media earlier this month that the youth wing hoped to raise a total of 300,000 US dollars for the event.
Once a hero to many Zimbabweans and Africans, Mugabe has seen his domestic popularity wane over the past decade, and his international reputation hit rock-bottom.
Last year he lost a presidential election to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. However, the electoral commission said Tsvangirai had failed to garner the required majority.
A second poll won by Mugabe was not recognized after being marred by killings and violence by his supporters.
Mugabe and Tsvangirai have since formed a coalition government.
'I think Mugabe is misguided - maybe it is age - he must not have this kind of a party when the people he claims to be ruling are suffering,' said Lovemore Madhuku, a human rights activist and political commentator.
Zimbabwe is facing its worst ever economic and humanitarian crisis. A raging cholera epidemic has claimed close to 4 000 lives since August last year, whilst hyper-inflation has rendered the national currency effectively worthless.
The UN says more than five million Zimbabweans need food aid.
'I have not seen a person who has become a shadow of himself like Mugabe,' said Raymond Majongwe, a political analyst and trade unionist. 'I am sure he is being ill-advised. His family shops abroad but it forgets that they are using our money. The tax payers can not afford to fly to go shopping.'
Mugabe, is married to Grace - his second wife about 40 years his junior. Critics have called her the 'first shopper' of Zimbabwe instead of the First Lady.
Recent western media reports claim Mugabe has bought himself a multi-million dollar house in Hong Kong.
Grace Mugabe last month grabbed the headlines for attacking a photographer in Hong Kong, where she was on a shopping spree.
Mugabe has been at the helm of Zimbabwe since independence 29 years ago.