Harare - Bona Mugabe, 27, eldest child of Robert and Grace Mugabe is building a mansion on land originally set aside for a government school.
The builders, described by police guarding the site as Chinese, fled with their equipment, including bulldozers, after the Coup d'état earlier this month. But police who said they were assigned to guard the property by State House, Mugabe’s former office, were still on duty there last week.
The city council says it did not know construction had started but that rates on the property were overdue.
The hillside mansion is now at foundation level on the Umwinsidale Road in a part of northern Harare where many vast and expensive homes emerged in the last 20 years.
The top and side of the hill were blasted to create an access road and a huge flat space for foundations for the new residence for Bona and her husband, Simba Chikore, 40, who married three years ago at her parents home not far from where they have chosen to build.
Several neighbours said the blasting began about two months ago and rattled windows several kilometres away. Much of the soil and rocks blasted from this virgin earth have been compacted into a huge, wide driveway, still too rough and steep for all but 4 x 4’s. The gash in the side of the hill has not pleased many who live in the area. “It’s a horrible scar,” said one neighbour.
The embankments which bound the driveway - still under construction - are about 11 m high.
Grace Mugabe seems to favour Chinese workers who have done massive building for her in the Mazowe Valley, 40 km west of Harare, where she has spent millions on buildings on agricultural land and homes seized from white farmers for which no compensation has been paid.
Two members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police guarding Bona's property, said they believed the building was for and her husband. They were on duty in a temporary office which appears to have been constructed by the builders. Neighbours also say both Grace and Bona have been to the building site.
A third man on the site on the top of the hill was sleeping in a brick-built shed, next to the neatly marked parking area for sand, stones, and equipment. He did not identify himself, but asked the photographer to stop taking pictures. “Did you see the police down there?” he said, pointing down to the flat area below the driveway, indicating that we should not be on the building site as it was protected.
Neighbours say the bottom area of the plot was used as an informal football ground by the local community.
Rita Tsoko, a staff member of Simba Chikore at his office near the main shops in the Borrowdale suburb, said she would contact him with our phone number. He and Bona were reportedly in Asia, probably Singapore where she was due to give birth to their second child. Like her father, Bona seeks specialist medical attention in Asia. Several calls later to those who said they worked for Chikore did not lead to him answering any questions.
Rusty Markham is a Movement for Democratic Change councillor for a chunk of Harare's northern suburbs. He said the land Bona and her husband are building on was originally public land. “Planning years ago was that a school would be built on this site. It is a mystery how this couple landed up with this property.” He said records at the City of Harare indicated rates and taxes on the property were overdue.
Grace allegedly discovered this valuable 11 ha land for her daughter, according to people in the neighbourhood who point to other valuable property she has bought, or “acquired” nearby.
Next door to Bona is a well-treed property Grace bought earlier this year for about R18 million from Abe Smith, who has since moved to western Zimbabwe where he set up a hunting operation. He declined to speak to Independent Newspapers.
She bought another much larger property in a nearby street in the same suburb last year for about R45 million, and months later bought her property in Sandhurst, Johannesburg, for more or less the same amount.
These properties, bought by Grace are adjacent to a huge slab of wonderful, heavily treed urban land, illegally seized from Andrew Newmarch after farm invasions began in 2000. His land - more then 800 acres - came under the control of a property developer who at one time had close links with some in the Zanu-PF elite. He invested heavily in the development of this land, and divided it up into 286 plots, for sale to wealthy buyers, even though some within the City of Harare say this was illegal as this was urban land, not farm land and therefore was not covered,
Nevertheless more then 60, mostly massive homes, have been built within this development.
Grace claims she owns about 50 plots of 1 - 4 acres of this “development.” Each plot is optimistically valued at about R2m. She allegedly paid a 10 percent cash deposit on four of the plots for members of her close family.
Across the main road from this wealthy part of northern Harare is the vast Hatcliffe suburb. It was one of the high density townships where Mugabe’s police and army demolished thousands of homes in 2005, in Operation Murambatsvina, as it was called, to undermine the largely urban MDC’s support base.
Since then poverty and urban drift have seen Hatcliffe double in size and density.
This was just one urban area where former local government minister, Ignatius Chombo took public land and distributed it to so-called "land barons" who handed out small stands to poor people for free. They then had to join so-called “co operatives” and pay monthly rent for their stand to the land barons. There was no documentation, no planning, no permits. Nothing.
Of more then 16 000 stands in Hatcliffe, only a quarter are registered with the City of Harare, Markham says. So rates and taxes are unpaid by the vast majority. “This is a slum, where most do not have clean water or sanitation,” Markham said.
Chombo not only allegedly profited from these urban land grabs, but those who were given free stands mostly voted for Zanu-PF in the last election.
Harare is bankrupt, not only because of slums created in similar conditions in many similar deals in other parts of the city signed off by Chombo, but also because he cancelled all ratepayer debts ahead of the 2013 elections which was the equivalent of losing about 18 months of revenue for the city. “The city can never recover from this,” Markham said.
Democratically elected Harare mayor Ben Manyenyeni, has been repeatedly arrested, harassed, insulted and abused by local government ministers, Chombo and more recently Saviour Kasukuwere, both of whom were in the Grace faction within Zanu-PF. Manyeneni was prevented from hiring competent executive staff.
“We don’t know what property she (Grace) has been buying, and news of her daughter Bona’s property is also news to me,” Manyeneni said. Neither he nor Markham will stand for reelection next year. “This job can drive you insane,” Manyenyeni said. “Maybe the two of us should check into the same lunatic asylum” quipped Markham.
Chombo was arrested in the early morning of the coup and was held by the military, blindfolded and incommunicado for more then a week, and then released to the police and is now charged with corruption and was denied bail last week.
Manyenyeni and Markham say he played the major role in bankrupting Harare during his 17 years as local government minister.
A Zanu-PF MP close to the new administration, but who asked not to be named at this stage said the State House police would have to be withdrawn from guarding Bona Mugabe’s property. “We clearly did not know about this, as this is early days,” he said.
Independent Foreign Service