Corruption watch WITH TAWANDA MAJONI
Years ago, the late former president Robert Mugabe furiously denied that he owned properties or bank accounts outside Zimbabwe. He challenged sceptics to bring back even a pin belonging to him, if they could.
Nobody has ever done that. That is despite the fact that, up to this date, many people strongly believe that Mugabe had several multi-million properties in all the posh corners of the world. Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Africa’s Sandton, et cetera. And the sceptics are still rummaging for his alleged fat accounts in all manner of tax havens.
Either the ex-president had a fabulous genie that has managed to splendidly hide all that wealth, or there is none, or something. The point is, this whole thing on his wealth and estate is confusing. Skip the alleged external properties and millions and come back home if you want to cut on the confusion. The only property he has publicly acknowledged owning is Gushungo Holdings and there seems to be no dispute about that.
Gushungo Holdings was already in the red a couple of years before he was deposed in a coup in late 2017. His wife, Grace, was running a reported orphanage in Mazowe and the Gushungo Holdings subsidiary, Alpha Omega, which was also collapsing.
That, in the ordinary, made the former first family a very poor lot by all standards. Outside the ex-president’s miserable salary, it also seemed, the Mugabes had no other source of meaningful income. But, again, that’s confusing. Mugabe’s sons were busy splashing thousands of greenbacks on wine, whisky and women in Johannesburg every week.
With Mugabe’s passing-on two weeks ago, the story around his estate is murkier. As government was haggling with the Mugabe family on whether or not the former president should be buried and, if so, where, some funny detail emerged. Leo Mugabe, the late president’s eldest male nephew, revealed that the famous multi-million Blue Roof mansion that we had all along believed was exclusively a Mugabe asset had, in fact, been built on Zanu PF-owned land.
Leo didn’t say whose money had been used to build that mega-buck structure. People had all along believed that the house was constructed by the president. In fact there had been speculation that the Chinese had not only contributed building material and design experts, but had also chipped in with some money. Then it also emerged that the Mount Pleasant house that he had been given to occupy at independence in 1980 was also a Zanu PF property.
Strange things happen. When Bona wedded, Mugabe gave her the Mount Pleasant house as a gift. The narrative then was a father had given his only daughter a family house as a wedding gift. But, once Mugabe passed away, the story changed. The new truth is that Mugabe owns neither the Blue Roof nor the Mount Pleasant house. That leaves the former president without a house. There is a run down house in Harare’s southwestern suburb of Kambuzuma that is also said to have belonged to Mugabe. Nothing is being said about that, but chances are that it could also be a Zanu PF property.
That leaves Mugabe without a single house for all the 37 years he was in power. Where on earth does such a thing happen? He had quite a bunch of fawning loyalists, most of them wealthy enough to have built him a castle on an exclusive island off the Indian Ocean. He had a lot of wealthy relatives too. Take Phillip Chiyangwa, for instance. He is a property mogul who could have easily donated a whole block of garden flats to Mugabe, his uncle.
Mugabe had lots of clever and influential advisors. The Gideon Gonos of this world. The Father Munokoris of this world. And he wasn’t that stupid if you pulled him out of the crowd. Yet it seems none of the advisors ever bothered to probe the status of the properties that Mugabe comfortably assumed were his. Mugabe, surely, knew that he was living on borrowed land even as he was busy purportedly empowering thousands of people with plots under the fast-track farm land re-allocation programme.
Could it be that power had reduced Mugabe to such a deluded politician with time? Granted, he had developed this strange illusion that he would rule even after the grave. It seems he had come to convince himself that he was immortal, courtesy of the perennial cheerleaders around him. But did he honestly believe he owned Zanu PF? Because, you see, you can only believe that a house built on Zanu PF land or given to you by the party without changing the title deeds is yours if you believe that, ultimately and definitively, you are the owner of the party.
It’s possible that things had got that bad in Mugabe’s psyche, particularly in the twilight of his political career and life. Do you know that one major reason why the November 2017 coup became possible is Mugabe’s delusion of himself as invincible? As admitted by a number of his latter day cronies, the signs of a coup were there for some time.
Former Cabinet minister, Jonathan Moyo, even took time to do a well thought-out, albeit academic, presentation that hinted at a coup during one politburo meeting. And intelligence warned him on several occasions that the military was working with some politicians to take over. Come to think about, Mugabe even publicly warned the generals against dabbling in politics at one time. Yet he always slept soundly, in the morning, during daytime and at night. He never thought the likes of Constantino Chiwenga, then the Defence Forces commander, and his then deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa, could rise against him, not in a thousand years.
Yet he must have done better than that, by all standards. Even after the coup, Mugabe never raised a single issue about the title deeds of the houses that he assumed were his. He knew how he got the properties. No-one will be in a rush to believe that the municipal, electricity, water and phone bills came to the houses in Mugabe’s name. That couldn’t be possible because he didn’t have the title deeds. Unless no bills were being paid for the Blue Roof and Mount Pleasant properties. That would be fraudulent because those are private properties that are strictly subject to Urban Councils Act rules, and so on.
But another question pops up. If the properties were in Zanu PF’s name, did the bills bear the name of the ruling party? If they did, why did Grace — for Blue Roof — and Bona — for the Mount Pleasant property — not raise issues long back? Why is Bona asking for the transfer of ownership to her only now? And why didn’t Zanu PF, through its administrative unit, move to redress anomalies in the ownership of the properties and is acknowledging the problem when Mugabe is no more?
Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.