JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — It’s that time of year again in Zimbabwe, when a beleaguered nation is asked to empty its pockets and pay for Robert Mugabe’s birthday party.
President Mugabe, who has continued to defy rumors of poor health (the most recent is that he had a heart attack in January), turned 92 on Feb. 21.
The annual big birthday bash will be held a week later, at a stadium in Masvingo province, which has been badly hit by a devastating drought affecting southern Africa.
But first, the annual shakedown to fund the party.
Villagers and rural teachers have reportedly been instructed to contribute donations to the party planners, a revolutionary-style group called the “21st February Movement,” founded in 1986 to encourage Zimbabwe’s youths to emulate Mugabe’s “selfless character and leadership qualities.”
Diamond mining firms have also been asked to give financial contributions.
More from GlobalPost: Robert Mugabe's birthday in photos
Festivities are said to cost $800,000 this year — never mind the country's economic problems. A severe electricity shortage has left many Zimbabweans without power for all but a few hours every day.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change said it was “incomprehensible” that so much money can be spent on one man, “when the government claims that it is broke and failing to pay teachers, nurses and doctors on time.”
In addition to the Masvingo event, there will also be a soccer tournament and a musical gala dubbed the “Well Done Bob” concert, with performances by top Zimbabwean musicians.
Last year Mugabe celebrated with a feast of elephant meat, but it is unclear what will be on the menu this time around — aside from the annual big cake. The drought in Zimbabwe has caused crop failure, and food prices are on the rise, with rural areas experiencing food shortages.
Mugabe has been in power for 36 years, starting with Zimbabwe’s independence from white rule in 1980. But he has refused to step down or anoint a successor — leading to fierce factional battles within his ZANU-PF party to succeed him as president.