THE privileged came in top-of-the-range vehicles, wearing elegant clothes and shoes; looking glamorous, but the poor majority who put them in power came on foot, bicycles and tractors, while some clung precariously onto rundown trucks, with the aim of celebrating President Robert Mugabe’s 92nd birthday.
By Elias Mambo
A large number of the thousands who attended the birthday bash — ironically held at Great Zimbabwe ruins at a time when the whole country has been reduced to a rubble by Mugabe himself — had been bussed to Masvingo by Thursday, three days before the event, only to be accommodated at schools where they had no access to blankets.
By as early as 4am on Saturday they started their journey to the Great Zimbabwe ruins — venue of Mugabe’s North Korean-style razzmatazz party.
But the road was cordoned off by police at the Great Zimbabwe turnoff, meaning the vehicles which were ferrying people to the venue were forced to drop off passengers.
Villagers and party supporters had no choice but to walk for close to 20 kilometres to celebrate Mugabe’s birthday.
Children strapped to their mothers backs, students from all over the country, old men and women who could hardly walk due to limbs weakened by age also trudged to the venue.
Some came out of honest loyalty to Mugabe, others just to see him while others wanted to hear how the president would handle divisions rocking his party moreso because his wife, First Lady Grace Mugabe and a man who has loyally stuck with him for 50 years, Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, are the main antagonists at each other’s throats.
“We slept in the classrooms at Mandara High school, without blankets. That was the only available place where we could sleep free of charge,” said a dejected 73-year-old Douglas Shumba from Chiredzi.
“A truck from Triangle was sent to ferry us to Masvingo for the birthday but we did not know whether blankets and other things such as food will be provided. So, since Thursday we have been sleeping in classrooms and now we are walking to the venue.
“I left Mandara High School at 4am because we were told it will be a long walk since vehicles have been blocked from getting to the venue.”
Shumba also said despite the presence of thousands of people in various schools around Masvingo, very little food was provided. At Mandara High men decided to leave the food for women and children as it was not enough.
“Last night was bad. Some women fought over food because it was not enough to feed the children,” he said.
Journalists, Zanu PF youths and members of the Women’s League were also forced to walk to the venue. Only senior officials were allowed to drive. Along the way, however, party supporters complained that their leaders were insensitive.
Local villagers, ravaged by hunger brought about by the prevailing drought, cashed in as they quickly mounted donkey-driven-scotch carts to ferry those who could afford R2 fare for a 10-kilometre distance. Those offering transport by scotch carts must have thought Christmas had come early as the aged queued for their services. A number of state-of-the-art vehicles cruised past blowing horns as government officials, Zanu PF bigwigs and ministers cruised to the venue in style.
Right up to midday, the scene at the Great Zimbabwe Monuments could have been taken straight out of Chinua Achebe’s classic Anthills of the Savannah.
With a wry sense of humour, Achebe captured the condition of poor ordinary people thronging political gatherings and waiting in the searing heat, while observing the empty comfortable seats awaiting privileged political personages.
True to form, Zanu PF heavyweights began trickling in around midday, making their way to tents strategically positioned to shield them from nature’s vagaries.
As if the long trip was not enough punishment, the masses who attended the bash were soaked to the skin by sporadic rains that pounded the dry Masvingo region.
Officials at the ceremony took turns to hero-worship and deify Mugabe to levels that bordered on blasphemy.
One such act of deification of Mugabe came from the Youth League political commissar and master of ceremony Innocent Hamandishe.
“The rains were acknowledgement from the gods that the king, President Robert Mugabe, has been accepted in Masvingo,” Hamandishe said.
Some members of Masvingo Zanu PF province had vowed to boo Grace following her vitriolic attack of Mnangagwa and a G40 engineered suspension of the province’s chairperson Ezra Chadzamira.
However, the event was held without any drama. The only dramatic thing was that there was no food at the celebrations. Not even cake. Unlike in previous years, Mugabe did not share his cake with party supporters at the venue of the celebrations. Hungry delegates were told they would be fed at the schools they had slept.
The cake was whisked away in a truck, after Mugabe had cut it and shared with his family.
Not even the “twenty-firsters”, the children born on February 21, had the chance to taste the Great Zimbabwe ruins-shaped gigantic 92 kilogrammes cake.
So thousands of ordinary Zimbabweans who attended the US$800 000 bash left without a feast or tasting Mugabe’s monumental birthday cake.