HARARE – Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has slammed President Robert Mugabe for holding his multi-million dollar birthday celebrations this coming Saturday near the graves of Gukurahundi victims who were slain by the North Korea-trained 5th Brigade in the early 1980s.
Mugabe, who turns 93 today, will be feted by thousands of Zanu PF supporters at Rhodes Estate Preparatory School (Reps) — near Matopos and close to Bhalangwe, a burial site for hundreds of victims of the killings.
An estimated 20 000 innocent civilians, mainly in Matabeleland and the Midlands, were killed by the army unit during a government crackdown which came to be known as Gukurahundi.
“It is an insult for a leader to host a multi-million dollar bash when people are facing hunger, it is not a secret that Zimbabweans are suffering and Mugabe decides to splash funds on a birthday.
“But what is worse is that he is doing so near the graves of people who suffered from Gukurahundi, a dark era that everyone would like to forget.
“It is really shameful that Mugabe goes to Matobo and insults his victims,” Tsvangirai’s spokesperson, Luke Tamborinyoka, said.
But Zanu PF youth league secretary Kudzanai Chipanga told the Daily News that the ruling party had chosen Matopos to promote domestic tourism.
“We are looking at promoting local tourism. That is why we have been holding our celebrations at holiday resorts.
“Besides, Matopos is of historical value to us given that King Lobengula was buried there. So, in a way, we will also be honouring him by celebrating the life of our dear leader there,” he said.
The remains of Cecil John Rhodes, who symbolises the British occupation of Zimbabwe in 1890, are also buried there.
Meanwhile, Matabeleland pressure group Ibhetsu LikaZulu has been discouraging people from the region from attending the celebrations.
“It’s an insult to the people of Matabeleland in general. Mugabe’s birthday is not worth celebrating if you are from Matabeleland because he led the genocide in Matabeleland.
“He is so proud that even today he doesn’t want to just say sorry? It is like going to a funeral and start playing wedding songs.
“Matopo is a crime scene, where the bones of people from all over Matabeleland are found. So, attending the event is clearly endorsing the killing of our people,” Mbuso Fuzwayo, the group’s secretary-general, told the Daily News.
This year’s birthday celebrations will be capped by a live musical gala featuring different artistes.
The nonagenarian’s birthday celebrations have previously courted strong opinions, with last year’s bash attracting widespread condemnation after it was held in Masvingo at the height of a ravaging famine which left livestock and impoverished communities needing emergency relief supplies.
A picture of a woman scrounging for crumbs from the high table where Mugabe and Zanu PF bigwigs were seated, captured long after the party had ended, caught the attention of the world after it went viral in both mainstream and on social media.