OPPOSITION parties have urged President Robert Mugabe to “pay back the money” he used on his aborted India junket or resign as the fall-out over the embarrassing trip continues.
This came as the government tried to do “damage control” over the issue at the weekend, claiming Mugabe made a detour to Singapore after a bomb scare had been made at an Indian airport.
However, it emerged that the bomb threat was made on March 5, two days before Mugabe left Zimbabwe ostensibly for India and should not have left if indeed he feared a security threat.
State broadcaster ZBC also claimed the Indian festival had been cancelled, the latest in a string of half-truths, as the government tried to manage the fall-out. Government officials also claimed Mugabe was meant to be guest of honour at the event, yet he was not listed anywhere on the programme.
It has also emerged that so poor was the organisation of the festival that the late former United Nations secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali was listed as a co-chairperson of the World Culture Festival’s reception committee, two weeks after he died.
MDC-T spokesperson Obert Gutu called on Mugabe to at least apologise or quit.
“Indeed, it’s a joke that isn’t funny at all. That proposed India trip was a very low-key cultural festival that doesn’t even equate to the Chibuku Neshamwari Festival,” he said.
“Mugabe should also proceed to refund Treasury every penny that he used on this humiliating and thoughtless foreign escapade. It’s high time Mugabe called it a day.”
MDC spokesperson Kurauone Chihwayi said: “Mugabe abused public funds to hastily attend ‘a valueless dance festival’. The MDC is demanding an explanation, not the hogwash that we have been receiving from his faction in government.
“The inclusion of Boutros-Ghali’s name in one of the committees almost two weeks after his death unravels the level of idiocy on the part of those mandated to repel the missiles. Mugabe should step down to allow the country to move forward.”
People’s Democratic Party secretary-general Gorden Moyo said the only beneficiaries of Mugabe’s “endless trips” were his “entourage and family”.
Legal expert and political analyst Alex Magaisa said Mugabe could have tried to force attendance because of his “love for recognition and influence”.
“(It) means they will accept any invitation that comes along as long as it provides a grand stage. It was almost saying you belong to this class of retired presidents, which was an embarrassment,” he said. Magaisa said the Indian event was used as a ruse.
“Indeed they ended up staying in Singapore for five days, suggesting that was the intended trip after all,” he said, adding mixed messages emanated from abuse of social media to defend Mugabe.
“Interestingly, Christopher Mushohwe (Information minister) was eerily quiet and was not saying anything, yet others like Jonathan Moyo (Higher Education minister) hogged the limelight as they tried desperately to defend the trip, but it was as futile an exercise as applying cologne to a pig,” Magaisa said.
Academic Ibbo Mandaza described the debacle as “criminal”.
“It is shocking that at the end of the day we are told the President realised it was no longer feasible to attend the event, but then takes five days to return home. It is a criminal state of affairs,” he said.
State spin-doctors were at pains to explain his five-day absence amid reports he was in Singapore for medical check-ups.
Mugabe, according to his handlers, aborted the trip due to security reasons and “substantial inadequacies in protocol and security arrangements around the event”.
Indian President Pranab Mukherjee reportedly boycotted the event due to environmental concerns way before Mugabe left the country.
In the face of the embarrassing incident now dubbed the “wrong trip”, government officials now claim Zimbabwe was now bidding to host the event in the aftermath of the debacle.