‘Let your kids have a good Christmas’ – Mugabe

Harare - Many Zimbabweans face a Christmas filled with cash and food shortages - but President Robert Mugabe says ruling party delegates should let their children have a good time.

mugabe-masvingo2In comments that will be seen as insensitive by some, given Zimbabwe’s growing socio-economic crisis, the 92-year-old president wished at least 7 000 Zanu-PF delegates attending a conference in the southern city of Masvingo a happy Christmas and told them to “let your children have merriment”.

“Do what you can to make your children happy whether you’re in town or in a rural home,” Mugabe said in a speech on Saturday afternoon in which he often appeared tired. Party members at this conference confirmed he was their choice as candidate for the 2018 polls.

Of course, it may be easier for delegates attending this conference to give their kids a good time next weekend.

Mugabe and his wife – who’s at the centre of a $1.4 million diamond ring scandal – have provided for a 5kg rice donation to each person who attended. (Rice and chicken is traditional Zimbabwean Christmas fare).

And more senior female members of the Zanu-PF politburo and central committee were each reportedly given a length of new fabric emblazoned with Mugabe’s face that has been designed by – wait for it – Grace herself.

For the rest of Zimbabwe, things are looking a bit less festive.

Cash shortages have blighted the run-up to this year’s festive period with many spending hours – and sometimes nights – in bank queues to try to withdraw cash. Banks have capped withdrawals so that customers have to return again and again to get cash and bond notes, the recently-introduced bank notes that have no value outside the country.

While delegates have feasted on 50 cows and other donated foodstuffs at this lavish $4m-or-so meeting, Zimbabwe’s government-employed teachers have been told they won’t get their salaries until after Christmas, on December 28.

Drought meantime has hit parts of Zimbabwe hard this year, with Masvingo province being one of the worst affected areas. Small backyard gardens keep families going – but aid agencies still expect that at least four million Zimbabweans will need food aid by March. That is nearly one-third of the population.

But in the vast tent at the Masvingo showgrounds where this conference has been taking place, there was little sign of discontent as the conference drew to a close. Delegates in a sea of lime-green hats nodded and smiled through Mugabe’s speech.

It was, said the president, the “story of success, success, success”.

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