Zimbabwe broke but Mugabe charges taxpayers $5 million for daughter's wedding

In past month, autocrat tallies $16 million on birthday party, wedding, bronze statues of himself -- even as state is too poor to aid recent flood victims. 

Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP
President Robert Mugabe (center l.), his wife Grace, daughter Bona, and her fiance Sam Chikoore cut his birthday cake during celebrations to mark his 90th Birthday in Marondera about 100 kilometers east of Harare, February, 23, 2014.

Zimbabwe is $11 billion in loan arrears, it just lost a hoped-for bailout from China, and the southern-tier African nation is now grappling with the fallout of floods and the breach of a dam weeks ago that left 60,000 people marooned.

Since it no longer qualifies for World Bank and IMF loans, the Mugabe regime is pleading around the world for $20 million in emergency funds to cover the disaster.  

Yet it also now unfolds that President Mugabe used $16 million in taxpayer funds in recent weeks to cover his birthday party, his daughter’s wedding, and for giant statues of himself to be built by North Korea that commemorate his uninterrupted rule since 1980, and his status as father of the nation. 

The Mugabe spending list, which dribbled out in recent days -- has shocked many, since public spending on the president’s family is larger than the immediate cost to rescue and aid the flood victims, not to mention a widening number of homeless and hungry in a country that used to be a breadbasket.

The appearance of excess has brought a new grassroots grumbling at the gap between the original liberation ideology of Mugabe and his behavior today.

The spending surfaced at a time when reports of Mugabe ministers salaries, some of which top $40,000 a month, are in contrast with the average salary of Zimbabweans, at $285-$300 a month, and just after a plan to raise teacher’s pay by $79 a month fell through.

Mugabe’s 90th birthday bash on Feb. 23, for example, where the president cut a cake in front of 10,000 people at a stadium in Harare, and where 90 beasts were killed and grilled for the occasion, cost more than $1 million.

The cost of Bona Mugabe’s wedding on March 1, attended by the heads of state of South Africa, Zambia, and Equatorial Guinea at Mugabe’s private home in Harare's plush Borrowdale suburb, cost $5 million.

Just after the wedding, plans leaked out that Mugabe’s Zanu (PF) government clandestinely signed North Korea, one of its old friends, to build two statues of Mugabe at an estimated cost of $5 million.

The statues were commissioned by Zimbabwe’s minister of local government, Ignatius Chombo. One is a nearly 30-foot high bronze image worth $3.5 million to be placed in Harare; the other is a $1.5 million version to be placed in a $3.8 million museum to be built in Mugabe's rural Zvimba home, in Mashonaland West. Building statues of leaders is something North Korea has considerable experience doing.

"Mugabe and his government have lost it and all they care about now is the accumulation of wealth and strengthening their hold on power," says Simba Makoni, Mugabe’s former finance minister who now leads the small opposition Mavambo-Kusile-Dawn party. "I do not think that Mugabe and the people who surround him now care about the country's economy anymore. Their actions show a lack of willpower to make the country better. They are no longer the same people who fought for and delivered independence [from Great Britain] in 1980."

Back in November, the Mugabe government said it had an inside track on a $30 billion bailout from China. The amount is whopping, considering that Zimbabwe’s annual budget is now some $4.5 billion a year. Yet the anticipated Chinese bailout has since been steadily reduced in Harare’s telling: to $10 billion, then $3 billion, $400 million – and then zero, according to China’s ambassador to Harare in recent days.

Meanwhile, in an odd backdrop to the spending, Mugabe's wife, Grace Mugabe, has added to her takeover of a citrus farmed owned by Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed Interfresh Holdings. Mugabe’s first lady helped herself to some 4,000 acres of the Mazoe Citrus Estate farm last year, leaving 50 families homeless and then at the turn of this year added another 2,000 acres. The corporate write off of assets is figured at $6 million.

Ms. Mugabe told reporters the added takeover of acres was needed to expand a nearby orphanage. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.