HARARE – Old sages say, “out of sight, out of mind”.
Following his forced resignation last November, memories of former president Robert Mugabe seem to be fading away — including in his own party, Zanu PF.
This year, the despot’s 94th birthday will be without the pomp and fanfare that used to characterise it as attention has shifted to much more pressing issues in Zimbabwe.
Instead of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in buying food and drinks, among other things, this year’s 21st February Movement will focus on giving back to the communities — commonly referred to as corporate social responsibility (CSR).
Zanu PF youth league secretary Pupurai Togarepi told the Daily News yesterday that the day on which the deposed former president was born would be honoured by way of a clean-up campaign and other CSR activities lined up for the day.
A “happy birthday song” would be sung for him instead of the lavish celebrations that Zimbabweans had become accustomed to.
Togarepi said Zanu PF was moving away from the lavish gatherings and call for donations.
“We are on schedule to commemorate the Youth Day. However, it will be a bit different this time around,” he said.
“The major emphasis will be towards building a responsible and patriotic youth. One who cares about the well-being of others, the environment and the community: So, we will be cleaning our environment, helping the disadvantaged and offering our expertise to the communities for free. On the same day, a delegation will visit our revolutionary icon and former president Cde RG Mugabe to sing him happy birthday.”
The party’s secretary for finance, Obert Mpofu, appeared hesitant on the matter simply saying “we will communicate with you in due course”.
If the Zanu PF youth league’s assertions are anything to go by, the celebrations will be a far cry from the festivities that accompanied Mugabe’s previous birthdays before he tendered his resignation in November — marking the end of a 37-year reign that started well but ended woefully through economic collapse, rising joblessness, extreme poverty and exploitation of State resources.
Last year, Mugabe marked his 93rd birthday with a 93kg cake and a rally in Matobo.
By this time, the Zanu PF machinery would be in full swing, coercing citizens to donate towards the celebrations.
Each year, it was the norm that well-wishers, including the President’s Office, would present extravagant cakes for the celebrations.
The corporate world was also known to make contributions, willingly or unwillingly, towards the commemorations, with some of the donated cash being channelled towards expensive whiskeys for the VVIPs.
In the public media, parastatals, including some State-owned enterprises that have perennially struggled to meet their obligations, would fall over each other to place congratulatory messages.
Mugabe had been criticised for prioritising his birthday celebrations at the expense pressing issues affecting the generality of the populace.
Ironically, it was the Zanu PF youth league, under the leadership of Kudzanai Chipanga, which made the resolution to have Mugabe’s birthday declared a public holiday in his honour.
Mugabe proceeded to make the proclamation in a Government Gazette that came into being before the swearing-in of his predecessor President Emmerson Mnangagwa in November.
The latest development comes as Zanu PF has assured Mugabe that his legacy will remain intact through the landmarks named after him that will tell his story long after he is gone.
Various landmarks in Zimbabwe, including roads, buildings and the Harare International Airport are named after Mugabe.
Last year, Cabinet approved $1 billion for the construction of a new university to be named after the soon-to-be 94-year-old.