Robert Mugabe and his family’s glitz and jet lifestyle under scrutiny

“THIS ultra-exclusive, ultra-private neighbourhood boasts huge mansion-like villas, each unique in layout and design. Enveloped in lush, tasteful landscaping, many properties enjoy views over the famous 18-hole Montgomerie Championship Golf Course as well as wide, sparkling lakes.

Hazel Ndebele

There is no doubt that to buy a luxury property here is to buy a genuine piece of the Dubai dream,” property website Luxhabitat describes the opulent Emirates Hills of Dubai.

Emirates Hills, the website reveals, is the most exclusive neighbourhood in Dubai, eclipsing Jumeirah, where some of Dubai’s wealthiest live. It has sophisticated and magnificent villas.

According to the website, the luxurious and upmarket area was “developed as an answer to America’s famous Beverley Hills” although, “Dubai’s Emirates Hills arguably does it better”.

Emirates Hills is an unlikely home for President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace. This is despite the fact that Mugabe is presiding over a country whose economy is crumbling and facing numerous challenges.

Mugabe is paying up to US$500 000 per annum for one of the posh villas in the much-sought-after area, which translates to US$42 000 per month. This was revealed in court papers in a US$1,35 million diamond ring dispute involving the first lady in which Lebanese businessman Jamal Ahmed is seeking the evichon of her personnel on five of his upmarket properties.

The money could buy at least two houses in Harare’s high-density suburbs and three houses in Zimbabwe’s smaller towns.

Other than the expensive ten-bedroom villa rented by the Mugabes, they reportedly also own an expensive Hong Kong property, set among the green hills of the country’s New Territories.

Ironically, Mugabe’s opulent life is in stark contrast to the lives of most Zimbabweans who are suffering his misrule.

The Zimbabwean economy is ailing and is characterised by a tight liquidity crunch, cash shortages, company closures and retrenchments. The country has an unemployment rate of 95% according to the International Labour Organisation.

Mugabe’s government is failing to deliver basic social services. The country’s hospitals, including major referral institutions such as Parirenyatwa and Mpilo, are operating with a shortage of basic medication and vaccines. The most basic pills such as painkillers are scarce in some hospitals.

The country’s road infrastructure is crumbling due to years of neglect with potholes becoming a major feature of the road network.

While the economy crumbles and ruins the lives of millions of Zimbabweans, the First Family has continued to live large, as evidenced by the ongoing US$1,35 million diamond ring feud between Grace and Ahmed.

At a time when the country is facing an acute foreign currency shortage, it has emerged that Grace placed an order for a 10-carat diamond ring valued at US$1,35 million from Ahmed. The expensive ring was meant to be President Robert Mugabe’s 20th wedding anniversary gift to his wife.

However, the deal turned sour when Grace demanded a refund and subsequently invaded Ahmed’s properties after the late delivery of the ring.

While Zimbabweans are following the court proceedings with keen interest, the court case has given them yet another glimpse into the first family’s lavish lifestyle.

Some may be surprised at the opulence given the harsh economic climate but Grace’s love for shopping is well documented.

Grace, once nicknamed “Gucci Grace” and “First Shopper” because of her expensive retail excursions, was once a regular at the famous United Kingdom’s designer clothing store Harrods. At one point she reportedly demanded that the departmental store close to allow her to shop in privacy.

In 2002, she blew US$120 000 while shopping in Paris according to French and English tabloids at the time.

Her European shopping trips stopped when the Mugabes and several top government officials were placed on a travel ban by the European Union and the United States due to human rights abuses.

In 2003, Grace was photographed with 15 trolley loads of luxury goods while sitting in a first-class lounge at an airport in Singapore.

The Mugabes’ love for the fine things in life are shown by the family’s choices on health care.

The president gets medical attention at the state-of-the-art Gleneagles Hospital and Medical Centre in Singapore, a hotel-turned-hospital. By Mugabe’s own admission, his entire family goes for medical check-ups in the Far East, in what many Zimbabweans see as a vote of no confidence in local health institutions, including private hospitals.

It was therefore not a surprise that Mugabe’s daughter, Bona, gave birth to his only grandson in Singapore in March last year. Grace had her appendix removed in Singapore in 2015, a procedure that could have easily been done locally.

Mugabe is also spending millions of dollars globe-trotting with a huge entourage annually.

Figures obtained from the 2017 national budget statement show that Mugabe spent US$36 million in the first 10 months of 2016 on foreign and domestic travel.

In contrast, many ordinary Zimbabweans are living in abject poverty. For instance, while Mugabe is enjoying life in the glitz and glamour of Dubai, thousands of people in Harare’s oldest high-density suburb, Mbare, face the risk of contracting typhoid due to poor service delivery.

Mbare residents are living in overcrowded flats while the sewerage reticulation system is dilapidated, resulting in frequent pipe bursts. Besides, most residents and informal traders who flood the suburb daily do not have access to clean water and toilets.

This is aggravated by heaps of uncollected garbage. As a result the area has been hard hit by the current typhoid outbreak.

Social analyst Maxwell Saungweme said the Mugabes’ lifestyle is an indication that the family was out of touch with ordinary Zimbabweans.

“They do not care how other Zimbabweans feel. They are behaving like many other African first families, for instance (Yahya) Jammeh plundered the whole country and exited,” Saungweme said.

Jammeh is the former President of Gambia who was in power for 22 years before he flew to exile a week ago. More than US$11 million is said to be missing from Gambia’s state coffers following the departure of the long-time leader.

“We have a selfish lot on top, people in government who do not care for the common man,” Saungweme said.

He said taxpayers’ money being squandered by Mugabe could be used for acquiring essential drugs for public hospitals.

Bulawayo-based analyst Dumisani Nkomo said: “It is unacceptable for a whole head of state and a whole first family to roll on the lap of luxury whilst the people they lead grovel in poverty.”

“The source of income for such a huge project (the US$500K villa) must be questioned because it is at variance with what the President officially earns.” Political analyst Pedzisai Ruhanya said Mugabe’s behaviour was expected, given his old age.

“What people should know is that we should expect anything from people of that age (93), even the absurd. Mugabe never used to behave like that in his fruitful years, he was never extravagant hence this new behaviour reflects on the state of his health and age,” Ruhanya said.

“Given his age it suggests that he may not be the one in charge of all these things we see. Many things are done under his name by his wife, his advisors and those close to him who are not sensitive to the suffering.

“Mugabe is fundamentally a creature of power, all he wants is to rule and die in office, this extravagancy and spending in the Far East is by his wife. Mugabe is slowly becoming incapacitated, therefore he should be delicately handled.” Ruhanya said Mugabe is out of touch with the everyday realities of the common citizen due to his old age, hence Zimbabweans should actually pity him. – The ZimInd

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