By PETA THORNYCROFT | IOL |
Money and indemnity from prosecution are the main items on the negotiation agenda between Robert Mugabe and the generals who want him to quit office before parliamentarians have to begin a process to expel him from the presidency on Tuesday.
Robert Mugabe is a wealthy man. No one is sure how wealthy as so many of his deals have been below the surface and undeclared.
But he needs a great deal of cash to support his wife’s extraordinary spending. She, so far, has failed to make profit from her ventures, except recently when she unlocked a mining deal for contacts in Kazakstan.
Grace Mugabe is the wealthiest woman in Zimbabwe. Perhaps among the richest women in sub Saharan Africa.
But her wealth sits uncomfortably on her shoulders, as she can’t prove she owns much of her vast property empire which is the largest slice of her known assets.
No one is sure how much money the Mugabe family has stored outside Zimbabwe, but details about Grace Mugabe’s collection of formerly white-owned farms is astonishing.
The Mugabes are the ‘owners’ or occupiers of more valuable land in Zimbabwe then any other person or family in Rhodesia or Zimbabwe.
They have even outdone former Lonrho boss, Tiny Rowland, whose Rhodesian/Zimbabwe assets were bought by British millionaire and murderer, Nicholas van Hoogstraten. Mr van Hoogstraten’s three vast ranches were taken over during the post 2000 land invasions.
She and her husband seized tens of thousands of acres of some of the most valuable land in Africa.
With the exception of one farm which Mugabe bought cheaply in 2000, they took about 20 developed farms in reliable rainfall areas from white and a couple of black farmers as well as land which belonged to a citrus company.
It was Grace Mugabe who stepped out and took the first farm for the Mugabe family. She chased off an old Zimbabwe couple, Eva and John Matthews from a wonderful hill-top property, Iron Mask Estate, in the glorious well tree’d hilly Mazowe Valley district, a half hour drive west of the Harare city centre.
She went on and on taking ever more bits of land contiguous to that first seizure. She took one farm from a black High Court judge who had himself swiped the farm, and she took another from a black man, who was then the chief executive of Standard Chartered Bank.
She spent millions of pounds building on land she took – schools for the elite, for example – from which she hoped to earn – offices, a new luxury house on top of one of the hills she claims she owns, dams, a modern dairy.
She also ran up a huge overdraft of more then £20 million at Zimbabwe’s largest commercial bank in the process.
Mrs Mugabe has a massive problem with the farm land on which she has spent so much. Nearly all of it is owned by the government of Zimbabwe.
In 2005, Mr Mugabe and his ruling Zanu PF party cancelled all title deeds of seized white-owned farms and changed the constitution to ensure that all land taken from them became state owned.
Not only that, but the government’s Agricultural Rural Development Authority, ARDA, paid workers and ran some of the farms for the Mugabe’s prior to the establishment of a government of national unity in 2009.
Mrs Mugabe had previously arranged for payment from ARDA to a white farmer for the dairy she claims she now owns. ARDA only paid the farmer half the agreed amount for Foyle Farm, Zimbabwe’s top dairy.
After she took possession of the dairy, and renamed it Gushungo – her husband’s clan name – it largely collapsed. Some of the cows she had bought produced milk infected with pus as she did not know how to prevent them developing mastitis.
But she learned and added all sorts of unnecessary expensive European equipment to the dairy, and still couldn’t make money out of it.It now largely produces yoghurt and ice cream.
But she still owes cash to the family of the white farmer who was not paid for the dairy farm as she had agreed, and the farm’s title deeds disappeared from a foreign-owned bank in Harare about a year before the former dairy man, Ian Ferguson, died in Australia.
So Mrs Mugabe owes Zimbabwe’s taxpayers a small fortune on that farm alone. She took more then £1m from the central bank in 2007 to buy commercial vehicles for her oldest son Russell Goreraza, from her first marriage.
She bought 125 acres from a white family last year atop a hill in the Helensvale suburb of Harare for about £3m. She will have the title deeds for this property. It is not clear where she found the cash to buy it and the tax man may want to know.
Earlier this year she bought a mansion in Sandhurst, Johannesburg’s wealthiest suburbs. Again, it is not clear where approximately £3m came from to pay for that property for her two sons, who spend tens of thousands of dollars on their life style in South Africa. They are both in Harare at present.
Mr Mugabe owns the massive property on which he lives. It is the biggest house in Zimbabwe. He and the Zanu PF party bought the land for him shortly after 1980 independence.
After he married Grace, she pushed for them to move out of State House – home to many governor-generals, including Christopher Soames, during the pre-1980 elections.
She wanted something bigger, better.
Mr Mugabe cannot account for the £10 m he spent building the 10 000 square metre mansion on three floors which is maintained and staffed by the state. It is known as the ‘blue roof’ because of the colour of roofing which is turquoise/blue Chinese tiles, from Shanghai, Mr Mugabe told journalists after the Telegraph exposed the cost of the mansion in 2002.
He also owns a modest house in the Mount Pleasant suburb, which is occupied by his eldest child, Bona and her husband who was previously boss of bankrupt Air Zimbabwe.
Mr Mugabe’s state pension, when he leaves office, would be the same as his present salary of about $60 000 per year as well as security, health care and some basic staff and a new vehicle. But he refuses to travel on commercial aircraft and takes over Air Zimbabwe’s only international plane, a Boeing 767, to see doctors in Singapore several times a year.
His home, with its own helipad, acres of landscaped gardens, and wildlife, takes scores of workers to keep. And Mrs Mugabe’s dairy has many workers, so does her school and other properties and farms.
Mr Mugabe admits, quite regularly, that his farming endeavours are not yet successful. He is not making a profit. His wife blew more then £1m on a diamond ring she bought from a dubious gem trader in Dubai last year. She wants her money back and to be returned to her bank account in Dubai.
Grace Mugabe has long been accused of being a sleeping partner – with her husband – in a diamond company, Mbada Diamonds, which mined and exported millions of pounds of rough stones mainly to Dubai.
EU geologists assigned to Zimbabwe via the Kimberley Process estimated the total sales of diamonds mostly into Dubai, from several mining companies, including Mbada Diamonds, operating in eastern Zimbabwe, may have been about $5 billion. IOL