Mugabe builds palace in land of hunger
'Surveyors in Harare estimated the building cost about £3.75 million - a colossal sum in a country where factory workers can earn as little as £6 a month. Final costs expected to push the bill close to £6 million'
By Peta Thornycroft
BUILDERS are putting the finishing touches to a retirement home for President Robert Mugabe that will rival the most extravagant of African leaders' residences.
The project is the latest sign of how his regime is prospering while vast numbers of Zimbabweans are close to starvation. The World Food Programme estimates that 5.5 million people - almost half the population - will need hunger relief by the year's end.
Several architects who have seen aerial pictures of Mr Mugabe's new mansion, 16 miles north of Harare, say it looks as large as a medium-sized hotel.
Surveyors in Harare estimated the building cost about £3.75 million - a colossal sum in a country where factory workers can earn as little as £6 a month. Final costs, including landscaping, security and interior decoration are expected to push the bill close to £6 million.
Contractors are working feverishly on the fittings while two lakes built for Mr Mugabe on the southern boundary have begun to fill.
The residence offers more than three acres of accommodation, mostly on three floors, including two-storey reception rooms, an office suite, and up to 25 bedrooms with adjoining bathrooms and spas.
Mr Mugabe's mansion is more than three times the size of his present official residence and his offices at State House.
Its scale has raised opposition concerns that - if as is widely expected - Mr Mugabe steps down as leader of his ruling Zanu-PF at the annual congress in December, or maybe after his 80th birthday in February, real power will move from his official government offices to his new residence.
David Coltart, the justice spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said: "It had always been assumed that Mugabe himself has not been corrupt. The size of this house would suggest otherwise and will further complicate the negotiation process as Mugabe seeks to secure a peaceful exit. He must explain to Zimbabweans where he got the money from to build such a mansion."
Since coming to power 23 years ago - first as prime minister and then as executive president - Mr Mugabe has officially earned a total of less than US$1 million (about £625,000), including various allowances. Last month, he increased his annual salary by 1,000 per cent to the equivalent of £23,000.
Last year, when America and the European Union slapped sanctions on Mr Mugabe and more than 70 of his political cohorts, Washington also froze their assets. Mr Mugabe challenged investigators to find any personal stash abroad. "They will find nothing," he said.
However, his new house is one of the most striking signs that he has spent massively more than he has earned. A mile away from the new mansion is that other architectural testament to Mr Mugabe's rule, the brick house -dubbed Gracelands - which his second wife Grace built using a government building fund set up to assist lowly paid civil servants.
It is dwarfed by her husband's retirement home across the valley. Set in 44 acres of heavily wooded land, the property is made up of three separate title deeds - the first two bought in 1987 by the M & S Syndicate Ltd, set up seven years earlier.
This week, staff at the Registrar of Companies in Harare said records of M & S Syndicate were not available, but gave names of directors, including the speaker of parliament, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is tipped to succeed Mr Mugabe as president of Zanu-PF, and the defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi.
The third tranche of property was bought three years ago from a farmer who, friends say, was forced to sell because Mr Mugabe wanted to extend the land-holding.
When he finally retires as president, he will continue to receive his full presidential salary which is nowhere near enough to maintain the costs of his retirement mansion.
At present, the cost of protecting the property is borne by Zimbabwe's taxpayers. At least four uniformed police officers patrol the perimeter 24 hours a day.
Security agents from the Central Intelligence Organisation are on hand to apprehend inquisitive drivers or bird-watchers who stop near the fence.
The mansion was built by a former Yugoslavian company, Energoproject, which has had close links with Mr Mugabe.
The present site manager, Alexandre Illic, said last week that the building had been completed about a month ago. He said he reported to the ministry of mines and that Mr Mugabe recently visited the site while he was there.
Sources in the building industry say landscaping and interior decoration - supervised by Mrs Mugabe, renowned for her expensive tastes - will be carried out by South Africans.
The Telegraph faxed questions to Mr Mugabe's Harare office, asking how the residence was paid for, but received no reply.
Brian Raftopoulos, professor of development studies at the University of Zimbabwe, said: "Details of his new home are an indicator that the issue of retirement is on the agenda. He will never let go of power. His influence on government will be different, but will remain.
"One of the issues for the transition is his role in retirement and his continued influence on all sectors.
"The size of his house indicates that he feels his presence needs to be symbolised by this massive outlay of resources for his retirement." - THE DAILY TELEGRAPH
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