IT does not matter that Zimbabwe is going through some of its toughest economic times because, or that in a moment of vulnerability President Robert Mugabe recently stumbled to his knees resulting in viral meme that nearly broke the internet, the nonagenarian is still going to have a big 91st birthday bash on February 28.
That is the party day. Mugabe’s birthday is February 21.
After all, he has just been appointed African Union and Southern African Development Community (SADC) chairperson.
It could also be be the world’s biggest wild game meat feast of the year. Matebeleland North, the Zimbabwe province hosting the celebrations, Matabeleland North, is rich in wildlife. It is home to the 14,650km2 Hwange National Park, which boasts more than 100 species of mammals, including a large herd of elephants, and about 400 bird species. Matabeleland is also home to many wildlife conservancies. The keys to the national park gates are set to be thrown away - in a manner of speaking.
Certainly many animals will not live to tell the story of the birthday.
The Chronicle newspaper reported that a prominent pro-Mugabe farmer, Tendai Musasa, for one, has donated a lot of game meat from the Woodland Conservancy Community worth a combined $120,000 towards the celebrations. It is an impressive, albeit controversial, offer. Musasa said he donated two buffaloes, two elephants, a lion, two sables and five impalas to be slaughtered for the roast.
No, the lion won’t be live. Musasa said it would be a trophy lion.
Some members of the local community, though, are not too happy. The Woodlands farm was given to 120 beneficiaries in the land reform, and they are complaining that Musasa is not transparent in his actions.
Party for 20,000
In any event, there will definitely be enough to feed about 20,000 people who have been invited to the celebrations in Victoria Falls, the country’s prime tourist destination.
The party is being organised by the Zanu-PF Youth League, under the auspices of the 21st February Movement, which was established in 1986 “to encourage Zimbabweans, ‘the youths in particular’, to emulate Mugabe’s revolutionary ideas, charismatic leadership and selfless policies”.
The event will be held under the theme Celebrating the Birth of Gushungo, the Icon of Zimbabwe’s Revolution and Champion of Youth Empowerment. Gushungo (crocodile) is Mugabe’s totem.
Zanu-PF Matabeleland North chairperson Tamuka Nyoni said the celebrations would be more special this year. “We are not only celebrating his birthday, but we are also celebrating his elevation to chair SADC and the AU. He is an African icon and we want to celebrate those achievements with him,” he said.
Nyoni said the main event, punctuated by music and dance, would be held at Elephant Hills Resort before an all-night music gala at Chinotimba Stadium. The elephants that will die on the day will needless to say, contemplate the name of the venue with some irony.
“So far, things are moving in the right direction. We are running around collecting what has been pledged for the celebrations. But in terms of meat, you know that this province is rich in wildlife, we have everything, be it elephants, buffalos, kudus and all so we have asked the national parks to assist us,” said Nyoni.
“Acting like a cannibal”?
“We are very, very disappointed,” said Johnny Rodrigues, the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force. “How can the president accept that elephants be killed as part of his birthday celebrations? Those mammals are like human beings; they are intelligent and have strong family bonds, so they mourn when there is death. We are very disgusted.”
“He [Mugabe] is acting like a cannibal. If they were killing animals like buffalos and impalas, which breed like hell, we would not be having a problem. But big animals like elephants and lions should not be killed and we expect the president to set an example.”
During the main ceremony, arts and music groups from Matabeleland North will entertain guests, among them Mugabe’s cabinet ministers and their families.
Arts groups have been jostling to perform praise songs for Mugabe, resulting in event organisers having to hold auditions to choose which group has the best praise songs for the veteran leader.
Even preschool children have taken part in the auditions, reciting poems and singing songs in honour of Mugabe, whom Zanu-PF officials now call the “supreme leader”.
“The interest and support from the arts industry has been amazing, be it traditional dancers, praise poets or musicians,” said Nyoni.
“We have been forced to hold auditions so that we choose the best.
“After the main ceremony, we will have an all-night gala at Chinotimba Stadium where top artists from Zimbabwe will keep guests entertained. There will be a lot of entertainment.”
The commemorations will also involve a children’s party at Victoria Falls Farm School.
Zanu-PF secretary for youths in the politburo Pupurai Togarepi said 110 youth, born on the same day as Mugabe, February 21, would be flown to Victoria Falls for a party that will precede the celebrations. Ten children from each of the country’s 10 provinces and 10 disabled children will be selected.
To ensure the celebrations are a success, Zanu-PF officials have asked individuals and companies to donate cash, services and food towards the event.
Mugabe’s birthday parties have always been ones for the record books, as this list shows:
•In 2014, when Mugabe celebrated his 90th birthday, his staff presented him with a one-tonne gold- and diamond-studded stone chair that took two years to make.
•More than 90 cattle were reportedly slaughtered for that bash.
•Mugabe was presented with a set of limited-edition gold coins to mark his 89th birthday in 2013.
•On his 89th, the Reserve Bank governor presented him with a gift of 89 cows.
•Every year Mugabe traditionally releases a number of colourful balloons, equal to his age, as part of the festivities. In 2012, a carpenter was arrested and taken to court after he remarked that he was surprised how, at his advanced age, the president could have had the strength to blow up the balloons.
•Mugabe’s 88th birthday cake was in the shape of a crocodile – his totem.
•The state-owned Herald newspaper described Mugabe as “good old wine” in a 16-page supplement dedicated to his 88th birthday.
•On his 87th birthday, he hinted that age was catching up with him but said he was willing to soldier on. “Eighty-seven is only eight plus seven ... My body may get spent but I wish my mind will always be with you,” he said.
•On his 86th, he had a lavish party in Bulawayo. Every year the party is held in a different town.
• For his 85th birthday, held in Chinhoyi, guests feasted on an 85kg birthday cake.
• Mugabe celebrated his 84th birthday in Beitbridge on the border with South Africa, but exiled Zimbabweans protested at the frontier to show their displeasure at his misrule.
• For his 83rd, Mugabe was given a stuffed crocodile by Cabinet ministers, who said it represented his “maturity and wisdom”.
• On his 82nd birthday, 43 National Constitutional Assembly members were arrested for trying to march on Mugabe’s office to demand a new Constitution.
• He celebrated his 80th birthday in his home village in Kutama with thousands of guests. In a televised interview he promised to retire within five years: “I will be here still boxing, writing quite a lot, reading quite a lot and still in politics,” he said. “I won’t leave politics but I will have retired, obviously.”
-First published on www.mg.co.za