By Sij Ncube
Harare, February 22, 2016 – STRUGGLING state enterprises are falling over each other to wish President Robert Mugabe many more years to come despite clear signs the nonagenarian is clueless in finding solutions to Zimbabwe’s nagging political and economic crisis.
Mugabe turned 92 Sunday at a time his Zanu PF party is at war with faction leaders vying to succeed him fighting tooth and nail to position themselves while the economy is at its knees with the government listed as technically broke.
It is battling to fund its operations with civil servants salaries being staggered. It has failed to pay all civil servants bonuses as promised by Mugabe early 2015. To date, only soldiers have been paid their 13th cheque.
But shrugging off the dire economic situation bedevilling state entities and government ministries, officials have not wasted any time to bootlick Mugabe as he turns 92 with some statement bordering on blaspheme.
The mainstream state media appears to be cashing on Gushungo’s birthday messages as it has been inundated with colourful advertisements in newspapers and catchy sound-bites on radios and television congratulating him on his birthday some sycophants in the Zanu PF Youth League wanted declared a national holiday.
While a lavish party awaits party faithful in Masvingo weekend in which an estimated $800 000 has been budgeted for, critics and the opposition say the money could be better spent on food aid in southern Zimbabwe where an estimated 3 million are in urgent need of food hand-outs.
The state-controlled Sunday Mail dedicated 16-pages on a supplemented titled “Happy Birthday Gushungo” in which journalists waxed lyrically about Mugabe’s so-called unparalleled leadership and argued for the need to declare February 21 Robert Mugabe Day.
The debt-riddled Grain Marketing Board (GMB), which is struggling to pay its employees and as well as import grain in the wake of a devastating drought, gushed in a three-quarter advertisement: “We pray the Lord to richly bless our political and economic liberation icon with more years filled with good health and wisdom.”
Unashamedly, Joseph Made’s ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development, which has presided over the prevailing drought and continues to refuse to allow the importation of genetically mortified (GMO) foods, said the ministry would continue to stand in “unison, celebrating his revolutionary life and unwavering selfless dedication to agriculture development and empowerment to achieve food security and nutrition at household and national level.”
But critics are quick to point out Mugabe’s controversial land policies have turned the commercial farming sector into dusty bowl after he allocated prime farms to party faithful. Zimbabwe, which 15 years ago was regarded as a bread-basket for Southern Africa, can be reduced to a basket-case. The country has been importing drought relief from Zambian farmers who were flushed out of their farms by Mugabe under the disguise of resettling landless blacks. Faced by a similar drought, Zambia last week banned the export of maize to Zimbabwe.
The looting of diamonds from the Marange Diamond Fields also appears to have failed to dissuade diamond firms’ executives from joining the bandwagon in singing for their supper with the Zimbabwe Minerals Development Corporation (ZMDC) and Mbada Diamnonds taking centre stage.
The ZMDC said: “Today we enjoy the benefits of our mineral rich country which came as a result of your hard work and esteemed leadership.”
Not to be outdone has been the equally debt-ridden Premier Service Medical Aid Society (PSMAS) which wished him many more years “filled with health and happiness.” PSMAS has been in the news in the past few years due to corruption with revelations its former chief executive Cuthbert Dube earned a month salary of $500 000 a month.
Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba, who sat on the PSMAS board, reportedly pocketed allowances of over $200 000 a month at a time workers at the entity went for months without salaries.
Universities and other tertiary institutions, battling to provide accommodation for students as well as pay staff on time, also stampeded to bootlick Mugabe with individual institutions jostling to take prime space or time in newspapers, on radio and television with the parent ministry headed by Jonathan Moyo using the occasion to curry favour with the Zanu PF leader as well as promote its Science, Technology and Mathematics campaign.
Vivid Gwede, a Harare-based political analyst and human rights defender, said while there is nothing wrong in wishing the state president a happy birthday, the challenge is that an inordinate amount of resources are being spent by heads of struggling parastatals and ministers in underfunded ministries in doing so.
“It becomes apparent that the motive is beyond just best wishes, but a stampede to show political allegiance and please the head of state for personal advantage using scarce state resources. It is just out rightly indifferent to the plight of Zimbabweans struggling with poor social services and hunger,” said Gwede.
The Zimbabwe National Water Authority and the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority are some of the state entities that splashed expensive adverts on radio, television and newspapers congratulating Mugabe on turning 92 yet the country’s towns and major cities are going for days without water and power.
For instance most Harare suburbs spent the weekend without water and power but ironically Mugabe’s nephew Patrick Zhuwao, the minister of youth, indigenisation and economic empowerment, said his uncle stood as a role model and quality standards that all youths must emulate.”
“As government indigenises the economy and pursues youth development and the economic empowerment initiatives, the nation remains grateful for your wise counsel and leadership. We pray that the Almighty continue protecting you and guide you in all your endeavours.”
Ricky Mukonza, a political analyst based in South Africa, said what Zimbabweans are witnessing is an advanced form of personal rule evidenced by hero-worshiping of the Zanu PF leader.
“Because the leader wields excessive power as compared to government institutions, his/her subordinates are compelled to display unwavering allegiance and loyalty at every opportunity. This is the reason you find ministers and heads of parastatals falling over each other to praise Mugabe,” said Mukonza.
“They are aware that if they do not do so their actions or inactions may be interpreted wrongly and to their detriment. What makes the situation worse are the factional fights and the rise of Zimbabwe People First. Mugabe’s subordinates, never mind the faction, would want dear leader to see them as loyal to him and his leadership. In doing this, some of these leaders seem not to apply their minds adequately to what they will be say, for example; when you wish a 92 year old many more years leading the country, what are you implying and to what consequence for the country?”
Obert Gutu, the spokesperson for the main opposition MDC-T, says Mugabe has perfected the art of patronage.
“He is the Emperor and if you want to remain on his feeding trough, you have to boot lick him big time. It’s a total and complete shame, really,” said Gutu.
“There’s a world of difference between respecting your principal and bootlicking him. We have seen many Zanu PF Cabinet Ministers literally falling over themselves in a bootlicking frenzy. If I was to do that to any person who is not God The Almighty, I’m pretty sure my children, focused, proud and self-assertive as they all are, will disown me as their father!”