HARARE ? In a bankrupt country ? reportedly with a paltry $217 in its coffers ? a number of State-owned firms forked out nearly $160 000 on Wednesday night to bankroll a football tournament as part of President Robert Mugabe?s 89th birthday celebrations.

Those coaxed to foot the bill, include the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC), the Air Force of Zimbabwe and several other private sector players.

The fundraising dinner, held at the four-star Crowne Plaza Hotel in Harare, netted a cool $190 000 in a record 15 minutes during a fundraising gala for the ?Bob 89 Super Cup.?

Besides ZMDC?s $160 000 pledge, a slew of corporates including a leading local bank, Jonathan Samkange?s Venturas and Samkange law firm, National Eye Security, Brian Makwabarara?s Hammer & Tongues $200 000 raised forMugabe in 15 mins

auctioneers, struggling bread maker Lobels and Goldtech Electronics among others, contributed the difference.

Nyaradzo Funeral Services pledged two 75-seater buses to ferry players and supporters to and from Bulawayo for the football tourney.

There was also a mini-auction of whiskeys, with a 40-year-old bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label whiskey, being snapped up by the Airforce of Zimbabwe for $1 000.

Diamond miner Marange Resources forked out $1 000 for double black whiskey bottle, whilst a diplomat from Oman paid $500 for another bottle of whiskey.

ZMDC, which has been accused of failing to remit cash mined from the rich Marange diamond fields to treasury, justified the hefty donation to the Bob 89 Super Cup football tournament, which will be played in two legs, the first between Highlanders and Dynamos in Bulawayo this weekend and the final in Harare.

?We have seen this as a worthy cause,? Godwills Masimirembwa, the ZMDC chairman said.

Mines and Mining Development minister Obert Mpofu, who was the guest of honour at the black tie event, said he had already received a couple of phone calls from his colleagues doubling the $350 000 proposed budget.

Mpofu, who again called himself Mugabe?s ?most obedient son?, urged the guests to help bankroll the match between Zimbabwe?s most passionately supported teams.

The fundraising committee is aiming to raise $600 000 in total for the whole birthday festivities.

Organiser of the Bob 89 Super Cup fundraising dinner, Stan Kasukuwere, showered praises on Mugabe, describing him as a ?pinnacle? that has stood the test of time.

The soccer match is one of three main events that will mark Mugabe?s 89th birthday on February 21.

The big bash will be at Chipadze Stadium in Bindura on 23 February, where a number of musicians have been lined up to perform.

All the festivities are being organised by the 21st February Movement ? a group named after the Zanu PF leader?s date of birth ? which has been frantically working to build a personality cult around the veteran leader.

Mugabe is the centre of an elaborate personality cult he has forged during his three decades-plus in power.

He is often the centre of attention in Zimbabwe, with the 21st February Movement working hard to whip up enthusiasm.

Mugabe?s birthday is like an important public holiday, marked by mass celebrations enthusiastically attended by his ruling Zanu PF with a massive party for children, loyalists and diplomats.

Some view the celebrations as a particularly perverse taunt given the common place poverty engulfing the country.

Mugabe came into power in Zimbabwe in 1980 when he was 56 years old and has remained in power since. ? Daily News

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