Zimbabwe’s opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), has criticized the ruling party for hosting lavish 92nd birthday celebrations for President Robert Mugabe while swathes of the population face food shortages.
The event reportedly cost almost $800,000.
Robert Mugabe has dominated Zimbabwe politics since independence from the UK in 1980.
The event, which was televised and featured schoolchildren reading poetry about the president, was held in the drought-stricken south eastern city of Masvingo.
Robert Mugabe, accompanied by his wife Grace, released 92 balloons to kick off the event at the Great Zimbabwe monument, with tens of thousands of people attending.
In a speech, Robert Mugabe attacked Western donors, and said he would not accept “rotten, filthy” aid if it was contingent on Zimbabwe accepting same-gender marriages, the government-owned newspaper the Herald reported.
The MDC said the celebrations were “ill-conceived”.
Money used for the event should be used to import maize “to avert the impending starvation” in Masvingo and other areas, said Obert Gutu, a MDC spokesman.
The UN’s World Food Program said food production had fallen by half compared to a year earlier, because of severe drought.
The government said about three million people were food insecure and earlier this month it asked for nearly $1.6 billion in aid.
Obert Gutu said the ruling Zanu-PF “should be utterly ashamed” for hosting the costly celebration while “more than 90 %of Zimbabweans are wallowing in grinding poverty”.
However, a youth leader for the ruling Zanu-PF party defended the birthday celebrations.
“Money is not the issue here,” Pupurai Togarepi told the Reuters news agency.
“You cannot put a price on the contribution of President Mugabe to the history and development of this nation. All these things are worth more than money.”
Zimbabwe has faced severe economic challenges in recent years, which critics blame on policies including the seizures and redistribution of white-owned farms in 2000.
Hyper-inflation left its currency worthless and required the use of foreign currencies for most transactions.
Robert Mugabe has blamed Zimbabwe’s economic troubles on Western meddling.