Harare - With Zimbabwe teetering on the edge of financial collapse, First Lady Grace Mugabe is spending millions on new properties and jewellery and is building the country’s most expensive schools for the elite.
With grinding poverty and a cash crisis which means there are never-ending queues outside banks, many Zimbabweans, including some within the ruling Zanu-PF, are embarrassed by Mugabe, 51, because there is no rational explanation for the source of her R100 million spending spree.
Among her recent “shopping” was a spectacular diamond, a massive property in the heart of Harare’s richest suburb, a luxury villa and construction of the most expensive private schools in the country.
There is no information about how she generated income to accommodate her purchases, nor how she will pay off an overdraft, estimated at about R280m. And some suggest she has accounts at the state-owned post office bank and one other small, privately-owned bank.
Many are shocked that Mugabe recently paid more than R60m for a property of about 48.5 hectares in the heart of Borrowdale, about 15km north of Harare close to the mansion which the First Family built for about R140m, and where they choose to live rather than in the smaller, colonial era State House.
The Teede family who sold their Borrowdale property to a company controlled by Mugabe did not want to discuss the sale of their land.
Jan Teede said the cash from the sale had been paid into the trust fund of the estate agent who concluded the “long” and “difficult” deal. “I do not want to discuss this,” he said.
Another resident, who asked not to be named,said: “The Teedes probably decided to sell their home and land to Grace Mugabe because they feared she would take it if they refused. We understand Grace Mugabe wants this property to develop many upmarket homes in a security estate.”
Mugabe is also spending several million rand building a complex of private schools, known in the area as the Amai (Mother) Grace Mugabe Schools, near Mazowe village about 20km west of Harare. The schools are built on land taken, without payment, from an old white couple 15 years ago and are housed in three double-storey blocks.
It was difficult to assess how many smartly-dressed children in blue uniforms were at the school but its officials claimed there were a maximum of 16 per teacher in the primary school.
Still under construction were an indoor swimming pool and under-cover hockey field and three other buildings on the same land behind a 5m high, 4km long wall.
A teacher at the school, who claims she is a “pastor”, said the Amai Mugabe school charged pupils R50 000 per term with three terms a year and most pupils were boarders.
The only Zimbabwean on site one day recently said they were “security” officials and that they were supported by CCTV. Staff are housed in small buildings behind the school.
A private building contractor in Harare who asked not to be named said Mugabe was “spending many millions” on the school complex, which is below a huge three-storey hill-top luxury home she finished building last year.
Mugabe has taken about a dozen other properties, mostly white-owned farms, since 2001. President Robert Mugabe has seized more than six farms for himself.
Zimbabwe’s first lady made headlines last week after a well-known Dubai-based diamond dealer, Jamal Ahmed, lodged an urgent application at the High Court, claiming Mugabe had invaded and taken over three of his properties in Harare in October after he sold her a diamond ring which cost R18m.
He claims she then changed her mind and demanded her money back.
Ahmed said in an affidavit that she wanted to be repaid in Dubai, although she paid for the ring from her Zimbabwe bank account.
Security officials at State House have twice refused to accept summons from Ahmed.
President Mugabe’s spokesman, George Charamba, failed to answer questions about Grace Mugabe’s latest spending spree.
Questions about her externalisation of funds were also put to John Mangudya, governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.
Independent Foreign Service