After over a year of obscene hotel luxury, Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko and his wife Laurinda may finally vacate the five-star Rainbow Towers hotel.
They were living in that grand opulence with their grandchild along with bodyguards and other aides, including secretaries. The cost for the VP’s stay at the hotel has been estimated at a whopping $300 000.
Reports of their departure follow protests by Zimbabweans, some of whom were arrested for picketing outside the hotel against the VP’s needlessly expensive lifestyle.
Mphoko was booked into the hotel after his wife rejected offers for plush houses in some of the country’s most expensive suburbs, including a $3 million castle in Harare’s leafy Ballantyne Park. The woman also reportedly said she and her husband were too special to occupy houses, including one in Highlands where the late VP John Nkomo lived and another where the iconic Joshua Nkomo before him, lived in Mandara.
The VP’s wife, Laurinda, who is of Mozambican descent, rejected the houses on the grounds that they were “too small” for a person of Mphoko’s calibre.
So, government had to spend over $300 000 to accommodate the Mphokos and their grandchild at the former Sheraton Hotel for a whole year because the VP’s wife could not locate a house that was luxurious enough to satisfy her bloated ego.
Until he was appointed VP by President Robert Mugabe last year, very few Zimbabweans knew of the existence of a person called Phelekezela Mphoko. That name did not feature at all among the political household names from Matabeleland.
This is perhaps the reason why even up to now, top Zanu PF officials are at pains pronouncing Mphoko’s name correctly. Zanu PF Midlands Provincial chairperson Kizito Chivamba recently angered the VP after pronouncing his name “Mboko”, a derogatory Shona moniker for an idiot.
This is the person who Zimbabweans were told was living in a hotel, at a cost that could build and equip several clinics and schools — because his wife found a presidential mansion that accommodated people like “Father Zimbabwe” not good enough for “a person of Mphoko’s calibre”.
Yes, Mphoko has an impressive political background and is well-educated too. He was the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (Zipra) commander in charge of logistics during the liberation struggle and became a career diplomat after independence, representing Zimbabwe as its ambassador to Botswana, Russia and South Africa before he was appointed VP.
Mphoko is also a specialist semen collector having undergone advanced courses on artificial insemination and embryo transfer in Austria as recently as 1999. He is also known to like golf, jazz music and cooking.
After joining the presidency, a job he publicly claimed to have applied for and submitted his CV, Mphoko became known more for making provocative and controversial statements than anything else.
He is also credited for making the advance party to First Lady Grace Mugabe’s whirlwind rallies across the country where he travelled by road while Grace flew.
It is at these rallies where the VP literally kissed the First Lady’s feet declaring his subservience while telling the nation that by virtue of her sharing the bed with the president, Grace commanded equal power and authority with the State president.
On January 26 this year, he blasted able-bodied Zimbabweans for taking to vending instead of getting proper jobs.
“I have got my own views regarding vending where you find an able-bodied man seated selling tomatoes. There are better things to do for someone who is fit except for those who are indisposed and physically-challenged,” the vice-president said.
“You should wake up and see what you can do for a living. We cannot tolerate a man who is fit, sitting down and selling tomatoes. No, let’s do something better,” he said without suggesting an alternative.
The nation was dumbfounded. So, Mphoko does not seem to see the mass unemployment around him — the industrial decay, especially in Matabeleland where he is supposed to come from!
Three months later, on April 16, Mphoko was at it again. He reportedly told the provincial co-ordinating committee in Bulawayo that the ruling party could not be represented “by touts and lodgers” in the June 10 parliamentary by-elections. He was referring to prospective contestants that apparently were not rich and whose lowly status would impair the dignity of the party!
The VP will also be remembered for his controversial Gukurahundi statement where he said Mugabe’s government was not to blame because the atrocities were a product of Western conspiracy — even when President Mugabe owned up and said it happened during a “moment of madness”.
These are some of the issues that came up during debate over Mphoko’s year-long stay in a five-star hotel where he spent over $300 000 in taxpayers’ money.
He finally agreed to leave the hotel after government found a $4 million mansion that is again going to be paid for him by the taxpayer.
The big question that features in discussions over Mphoko’s costly opulence is the justification of this monstrosity. What really has Mphoko done or is doing for the people of this country to deserve such special treatment while the rest of the citizens wallow in poverty?
The Mphoko hotel saga exemplifies the parasitic nature of insensitive individuals and governments that seek opulence while creating only misery and chaos for the ordinary citizen.
Living in an expensive hotel for a full year and then moving out to go into a $4 million castle feels like Mphoko is spitting into the people’s faces!
It speaks moral shamelessness and personal greed where public money is abused to enable one man and his family to live in grand opulence while misery stinks around the country.
What our leaders, including Cde Mphoko and his wife, should learn to understand is that hunger, poverty and such insensitive arrogance by those who rule is the real threat to national security.
Zimbabweans may be a peace-loving, tame and tolerant lot who value peace; but survival instinct has the last word.