MEALTIME has finally come for the visibly starving elderly woman standing in the queue with five people in front of her.
Her dusty cracked feet and haggard face depict a lifetime of suffering and toil. It is apparent she has come a long way in the hope that she could partake in the fiesta, thanks to â€œComrade President Robert Mugabe.â€
As the woman waits for her turn to be served, a man of about 25 years attempts to jump the queue, much to the annoyance of a soldier who lunges at him immediately.
In a bid to shield himself from the charging soldier, the man leans back with force and in the process falls on to the elderly woman. She lands on the dusty concrete verandah with a thud leaving dozens of dry-mouthed people in the queue confused and fearful. Still in anguish she dusts off her Zanu PF regalia before the lad flees.
The woman is part of the multitude who raced from the Chinhoyi University grounds to the dining hall hoping to be an early bird after Mugabe and his entourage left the grounds where he delivered a long speech to mark his 85th birthday.
Her plight typifies that of thousands of Zanu PF supporters who celebrated the octogenarian leaderâ€™s birthday by consent or coercion. Â
Like a pack of hungry hyenas being relentlessly restrained by a lone lion, such was the enormous task that was before the young soldier who single-handedly used brute force to control Zanu PF supporters from rampaging into the Chinhoyi Public Service Training Centre dining hall.
Laughter would have been brighter if the food was in abundance, notwithstanding how appetising it was.
But sheer determination to join the lucky few outweighed the fear that confronted the hunger-stricken supporters. Inside the hall, supporters swallowed large morsels of sadza and stew that was at times served on newspapers and plastic plates.
They had endured the sweltering heat patiently waiting in anticipation of Mugabe and his long-time rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
A handful brought their own cutlery to the party but they were not spared from the desperation that marked the day. Owing to dry taps at the training centre, some washed their plates using water dripping from gutters mounted on buildings before sharing plates among themselves.
A temporary reprieve only arrived late when a tractor carrying a large tank full of water was availed to the party supporters well after pots had been emptied. Only schoolchildren who were lucky to receive a few slices of bread accessed this water.
Across the fence, Mugabe and his henchman were banqueting at the Chinhoyi University Hotel â€” a conferencing facility that was recently established to equip students undertaking hospitality studies.
Unlike the training centre, every tap was running and no meandering queues could be seen outside the complex. But a car park full of luxury vehicles joined Mugabeâ€™s entourage as the veteran leader and his coterie gorged themselves.
Unlike the ordinary party supporters who jostled for sadza, boiled cabbage and stew, invited guests were treated lavishly with salads, rice, and beef or chicken. Fizzy drinks were also served to cool down the flock and other invited dignitaries.
Placards laden with less-than-subtle messages were displayed at Chinhoyi University sports field during the North Korean-styled festivity, which celebrated the life of the Zanu PF leader.
â€œThere is no manna from the West,â€ read one of the placards seemingly undermining the opposition leaderâ€™s efforts to engage the European Union. Another one announced: â€œItâ€™s the sanctions, stupid.â€
Mugabe was showered with praise hailing his legacy. He was described as a â€œtrue son of the soilâ€.
Clearly referring to Mugabeâ€™s octogenarian status, another placard boldly declared: â€œAge ainâ€™t nothing but a number.â€
School children bussed to the venue also sang, â€œKuti unzi president, zvinoda wakadzidza (It calls for great intellectual capacity to become president),â€ hailing Mugabeâ€™s controversial reign.
On arrival, Mugabe, his wife and two sons Robert Jnr and Belarmine endured a 15-minute Hollywood style photo shoot with school children who were jostling to pose for snaps with the first family.
This was followed by series of glorifying speeches, which carried one theme â€” that Mugabe is an indispensable â€œvisionaryâ€ leader.
So boring were some of the speeches and announcements that often Mugabe seemed tired, only to be â€œawakenedâ€ at the voice of a Zanu PF youth member who lively mimicked his public speeches.
The permanent secretary in the Ministry of Information who also doubles as Mugabeâ€™s speechwriter, George Charamba, seated next to the presidential chief of protocol Munyaradzi Kajese, could not help but laugh as the young man eloquently recited a â€œmedleyâ€ of Mugabeâ€™s rhetoric flourishes.
Prisoners serving at Chinhoyi Prison also drew Mugabeâ€™s attention when they passionately appealed for presidential clemency in a song titled Ndiregererei ndakatadza (I am sorry I offended) before the master of ceremonies echoed the same plea. But Mugabe remained mum.
Clad in a striped greyish suit and red scarf, Mugabe finished his imported Ceres fruit juice in two gulps before proceeding to deliver his speech to a seemingly uninspired audience yawned more than in applaude. His wife Grace and other â€œVVIPsâ€ seated in the front row also sipped imported drinks before other dignitaries were served.
Mugabe took the stage just after lunchtime where he threatened to seize more farms from white commercial farmers.
He said: â€œAgain I want to say, the farmers who owned these farms, which now have been designated and offered to new owners, must respect that law. They must vacate those farms, they must vacate those farms, they must vacate those farms.
Â â€œSome farmers went to the Sadc Tribunal in Namibia, but thatâ€™s nonsense, absolute nonsense, no one will follow that. We have courts here in this country that can determine the rights of people. Our land issues are not subject to the Sadc Tribunal.â€
Security details and party marshals had to restrain schoolchildren who tried to leave the grounds after Mugabeâ€™s seemingly unending speech.
Event coordinator Patrick Zhuwao â€” Mugabeâ€™s nephew â€” described the US$250 000 as better than that of 2008 in Beitbridge.
About 4 000 people attended Mugabeâ€™s birthday in Chinhoyi, compared to about 10 000 who attended the Beitbridge bash.
BY BERNARD MPOFU