SECURITY has been tightened in Bulawayo and surrounding areas to quash any anti-President Robert Mugabe protests planned ahead of his lavish 93rd birthday celebrations scheduled for today in Matobo. The majority of delegates will be staying in Bulawayo and schools surrounding Matobo.
BY OBEY MANAYITI/NQOBANI NDLOVU/PAIDAMOYO MUZULU
According to Zanu PF secretary for youth affairs, Kudzi Chipanga, about 100 000 people from all over the country are expected to attend.
Mugabe has been criticised for prioritising his birthday celebrations, where people were forced to donate various items ahead of other pressing issues that are affecting the generality of the populace.
Social movements have vowed to go ahead with their planned protests.
“We will not chicken out. We are determined to show our unhappiness with this senseless birthday tomorrow (today). Our message will be very clear though we are not disclosing too much for now,” Tajamuka/Sesjikile spokesperson, Promise Mkwananzi, said.
Happyson Ncube, who co-ordinates the social movement in Bulawayo, weighed in saying: “Definitely, we are going ahead with our protest.”
But, Chipanga said they would not be deterred, vowing “antagonists” should swallow their pride and come to attend in solidarity or to just watch the event on television.
He said the youths attached so much importance to the birthday, as much as Christians do to Christmas celebrations.
“Everything is now in place and we are now waiting for the event. We are looking at a bigger crowd than last year and our provinces have told us that they are bringing about 10 000 people each. People are camping in Bulawayo and schools surrounding Matobo,” he said.
“We value our President’s birthday in a big way just like many Christians value the birth of Jesus Christ. We, in Zanu PF, value the birth of our President highly such that we cannot afford to see the day just passing, hence, we also want it to be declared a national holiday. We are happy that the government is looking at our request and we are looking forward to a National Youth Day.”
Chipanga urged youths to be peaceful.
Meanwhile, several schools in Bulawayo remained closed on Thursday and yesterday despite the Education ministry’s last minute U-turn to dismiss an earlier order directing them to close to allow Zanu PF delegates to camp on their premises.
While it was business as usual along some streets in Bulawayo, the “happy birthday” mood at several bottle stores was palpable to the extent that ordinary residents would have been forgiven for thinking that public drinking had been legalised.
Public drinking is a crime, but yesterday afternoon, it all appeared normal and legal.
With bloodshot eyes, teams of youths in T-shirts emblazoned President @ 93 were having a jolly good time, partaking in opaque beer, spirits, wines and lagers.
“Mdara Achauya (the boss is coming) …,” so they sang along to a Jah Prayzah song at one of the bottle stores in the city centre, seemingly awaiting the arrival of Mugabe yesterday to cut the cake to celebrate turning 93 years.
On Thursday, Zanu PF youths held a march in the city centre, and Bulawayo residents watched uninterested, but to the ruling party’s tourism officer, Betty Dhliwayo, those were not ordinary residents, but opposition supporters.
“I saw MDC supporters shaken by this event in verandas when they saw that we are organised. We don’t go about destroying property or stealing. We are ordinary people,” she said of the Thursday march termed a carnival to kick-start Mugabe’s birthday celebrations.
The “carnival” was set for the Large City Hall, but heavy rains forced the event to be cut short.
On social media, ordinary people and activists, not happy with the grand 93rd birthday celebrations, have been “wishing” for heavy rains to force the cancellation of the bash, where a gluttonous meal awaits many, especially VIPs.
The rains have been unforgiving for the whole week, save for yesterday afternoon.
Chipanga said the ruling party was not taking chances. Initially, only VIPs had been catered for through the mounting of marquee tents, he said.
“We had initially pitched tents for the VIPs and VVIPs, but we have put up tents for everyone in case it rains,” Chipanga said.
Several hundred commuter omnibuses, buses and trains have been hired to ferry party enthusiasts and this has infuriated social movement, Tajamuka/Sesijikile, which is planning a protest march today.
Meanwhile, civil society organisations on Thursday evening issued a statement in which they accused the government and Zanu PF of abusing power and office by forcing schools to close and citizens to donate towards Mugabe’s birthday celebrations.
“Transparency International Zimbabwe (TI-Z), Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Tajamuka/Sesijikile and Zimbabwe National Students’ Union collectively questioned the evident abuse of power and office to secure resources from schools and companies towards the 21st February Movement celebrations,” they said in a statement.
Zanu PF leaders in Bulawayo earlier this month reportedly coerced resettled farmers to donate one beast per household towards the festivities.
The civic groups said there should be a distinction between government and Zanu PF activities.
“TI-Z and partners, therefore, call on Zanu PF and government to operate as separate entities and for both to redirect their efforts towards alleviating poverty and to stop abusing their power for political gain at the expense of the vulnerable in society,” the statement read.