AFTER celebrating his 91st birthday with a lavish £800,000 party last week, president Robert Mugabe has told cash-starved Zimbabweans that his salary has been tripled, adding: “I’m suffering just like you.”
The defiant leader, whose 35-year stay in power has left Zimbabwe nearly bankrupt, revealed that his salary has been upped to £7,900 a month, even though his tax chief recently called for a nationwide salary cut to help the economy recover.
Last year, Mugabe’s monthly pay was reported to be £2,600. Most Zimbabwean workers earn less than £200.
In astonishingly insensitive comments, Mugabe reportedly complained that his new pay was “meagre” and not in line with the salaries of other presidents in the region.
“We were looking at the salaries for the other presidents the other day but we say, well, as long as we have sadza nenyama (Zimbabwe’s staple cornmeal porridge and meat) and we have cattle and goats so we get our meat and chicken, well, that’s alright and we will keep alive,” Mugabe said.
The Zimbabwe president was addressing medical staff and guests at the handover of £66m worth of equipment to Harare’s dilapidated Central Hospital.
The equipment has been bought with a Chinese loan, the official Herald newspaper reported.
Mugabe’s comments came less than a week after cabinet ministers and Zanu-PF youths put on a massive feast for the president’s birthday last Saturday in Victoria Falls
Elephant, impala, beef and crocodile were all on the menu. along with a birthday cake the size of two beds.
Companies that refused to hand over donations for the party are now being hounded by Zanu-PF, reports say.
Press footage of Mugabe and his glamourous wife Grace dancing and eating cake at the party sparked criticism, not least because many here can barely afford a loaf of bread a day.
Eighteen months after Mugabe was voted back into power, Zimbabwe’s economy looks to be heading for disaster. Companies are retrenching workers or cannot pay them on time.
Lecturers at state universities were told this week that their bonuses – which should have been paid by Treasury in December – are being delayed because of “serious financial challenges.”
Zimbabwe revenue authority commissioner general Gershom Pasi last month called for cuts to “artificially high” salaries for civil servants.
Worse still, agriculture minister Joseph Made has just admitted that crops in many parts of the country are a write-off and the situation looks grim as Zimbabwe faces yet another drought.
Locals reacted angrily yesterday to news of Mugabe’s salary increase.
“Now if someone earning a cool $12,000 plus several allowances is ‘crying’ and he does not have rent, bills, transport, school fees, taxes, fines … what (about) that poor Zimbabwean who has to pay for all that on a $300 salary?” commented reader Gunguwo on the independent Newsday website.
Another reader said: “Either Mugabe is very old now or he thinks we are fools. Grace wears Jimmy Choo shoes worth $5,000 a pair. We see her, don’t we?”
Actually, Mugabe’s new salary pales into insignificance beside the bloated paycheques some in his administration are awarding themselves.
The head of the state medical aid society PSMAS Cuthbert Dube was last year revealed to be taking home £331,000 a month. Tax chief Pasi himself has been rumoured to earn £205,000 a month, though the government denies this.
At Thursday’s commissioning ceremony at Harare Central Hospital, Mugabe predicted that Zimbabwe’s hospitals would soon welcome medical tourists – even though he and his wife regularly travel to Singapore for treatment.
“If yesterday we were getting fewer patients from outside, their numbers will increase in the future and even from South Africa itself,” he said.
Grace Mugabe has just spent two months in the Far East having her appendix out.