Patronage display at presidential bash

PERRENNIALY underperforming parastatals and struggling companies, some of which have gone for several months without paying workers, were among the many businesses that contributed to President Robert Mugabe’s lavish US$1 million 90th birthday celebrations in Marondera this week.

Owen Gagare/Elias Mambo

Shockingly, even parastatals and public enterprises fingered in corruption were among the contributors, raising serious questions about whether Mugabe has at heart ordinary Zimbabweans bearing the brunt of corruption and maladministration which have caused severe hardships for the people.

The president’s critics say by accepting donations from organisations that continue to be a major drain on the fiscus, and which are failing to pay workers or have been accused of maladministration and corruption, Mugabe wasted a good opportunity to show Zimbabweans he was concerned about their plight.

Instead, representatives from public enterprises were given VIP treatment during the high-profile celebrations. They were allocated seats in a tent where cabinet ministers and diplomats were seated.

According to a list seen by the Zimbabwe Independent, one of the major contributors to Mugabe’s birthday bashes over the years, Premier Service Medical Aid Society (Psmas) whose former chief executive officer Cuthbert Dube is said to be close to Mugabe.

Dube has been in the eye of a storm of controversy in recent weeks after sensational revelations he was receiving close to US$500 000 as part of his “obscene” monthly salary and allowances, although the organisation owed service providers US$38 million.

Psmas is the largest medical aid society in Zimbabwe and has a total membership of 802 072 of whom 671 133 are civil servants and 130 939 from the private sector.

Most Psmas contributors are, however, being turned away from various medical institutions countrywide because of debts, but that did not stop the organisation from fulfilling what has become an annual ritual: donating to Mugabe’s birthday celebrations.

The Independent has established that Psmas has donated for many years towards buying Mugabe’s opulent birthday cakes, always at a huge cost.

Hwange Colliery Company also contributed to the celebrations although the company has failed to pay workers for about eight months.

Mobile network company NetOne also donated towards the function despite struggling since dollarisation and lagging well behind its competitors, Econet and Telecel.

The list of companies which contributed to the birthday celebrations include Zimplats, Lobels Bread and Dairibord, a former parastatal which was privatised.

Zimplats has been underperforming and retrenched close to 2 500 employees in April last year while Dairibord also retrenched the same year.

Lobels has been limping for a while and almost collapsed several years ago, weighed down by the burden of a US$14 million debt. The company was rescued by a consortium of banks, but is still fighting to regain its market share after losing ground to Innscor’s Bakers’ Inn and Proton bakeries.

Companies operating in Chiadzwa Diamond fields, among them Mbada Diamonds and Diamond Mining Company, also contributed towards the birthday celebrations.

Diamond companies have been accused of shady operations and failing to remit proceeds to the national fiscus with former finance minister Tendai Biti and current Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa accusing them of failure to remit obligations.

In addition, several individuals and companies made generous contributions towards the colourful occasion attended by thousands of people partly attracted by free food, drinks and live music.
The money spent has attracted criticism from those who believe too many resources were wasted on vanity at a time when millions of Zimbabweans are starving due to food shortages.

About 1,8 million Zimbabweans require food aid according to the United Nations World Food Programme.

According to the latest Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee report, two million Zimbabweans are food insecure.

Most of those in need of food aid are in the drought-prone southern parts of the country such Masvingo, Matabeleland South, southern parts of Manicaland and Midlands.

Mugabe’s birthday was also celebrated at a time when more than 2 000 families in the Tokwe-Murkosi basin were displaced by floods which swept Masvingo.

At one time an estimated 60 000 families were at risk of being affected in the low-lying areas of the arid Masvingo Province.
The displaced families are going without basic needs. Mugabe has not bothered to visit them.

University of Western Cape Professor Brian Raftopoulos said the donations were in line with the patronage system which Mugabe has established over the years.

“It shows that these individuals and organisations are more interested in staying within the Zanu PF patronage system. By accepting the donations, it shows that Mugabe is the one who has encouraged and developed the network,” said Raftopoulos.

A social commentator Tanonoka Joseph Whande said that Mugabe could celebrate his birthday at a time when many people were suffering showed insensitivity.

“Nothing confirms the insensitivity of Mugabe and his bootlickers than the amount of money used to celebrate his birthday at a time the nation is in financial distress and at the very moment when our compatriots are left to fend for themselves during and after the Tokwe-Murkosi disaster,” he said.