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By Lebo Nkatazo

ZIMBABWE'S First Lady Grace Mugabe has abandoned her £700 000 Chivhu mansion, amidst thick rumours that she has sold it.

Neighbours of President Robert Mugabe's posh wife in in Chivhu, her hometown, told New that the mansion has become a white elephant with Mrs Mugabe said to have last set her foot there over a year ago.

The neighbours said the house -- whose construction had stopped a few years back after a storm of negative publicity -- might have been sold altogether as "some unknown people” now visit once in a while.

"The mansion now needs final touches only. It has windows, has been plastered, but it's not painted.

"She last visited over a year ago and everyone here in Chivhu is wondering whether she is still the owner,” said a neighbour.

After wedding Mugabe, Grace whose spending habits rival those of Imelda Marcos the former President Philippines first lady, looted a low-cost housing scheme for junior civil servants to build her a £500,000 three-storey, 30-room private palace in the formerly white Harare suburb of Borrowdale.

She named the house Gracelands, partly in honour of herself and partly after Elvis Presley’s mansion of the same name in Memphis, Tennessee.

Grace later sold Gracelands to a close friend, the Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, for £3 million, and pocketed the £2.5 million profit.

An architectural eyesore, Gracelands now serves as the Libyan embassy, the biggest diplomatic building in Harare, dwarfing by far the beleaguered US embassy and the British High Commission. Harare’s courageous independent press discovered the scam and revealed that junior civil servants have received no benefits from the housing scheme to which they were compelled to make contributions.

When the Libyans moved into Gracelands they sacked all the Zimbabwean servants and gardeners and brought in staff from Libya.

The land on which Gracelands stands was bought by Grace at an 80 per cent discount. Grace said that she had paid for Gracelands with her savings from her job as a government typist.

With part of the profits from the Gracelands sale, Grace built the luxury mansion in Chivhu, 100 miles south of Harare. The double-storey house has three lounges, two dining rooms, eight bedrooms and six bathrooms. Much of the material for the project was provided free by the ministry of public construction and delivered in government-registered trucks.

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