By Nomalanga Moyo
20 March 2013
President Robert Mugabe’s plush R200 million mansion is nearly complete and ready for occupation, reports from South Africa suggest.
Located on the coast of Ballito, next to the Zimbali golfing estate, the property is described as ‘set for royalty’, boasting two man-made lakes, ‘lush vegetation’, ‘extensive parking areas’ and unique Indonesian Balinese architecture.
Security-wise, the property is reportedly a heavily guarded fortress with bulletproof windows and an underground bunker, leading to speculation that it is actually meant to be sanctuary for Mugabe when he leaves office.
The man behind this controversial development is Robert Mhlanga, a retired Air Vice-Marshall and a close friend of Mugabe who is heavily implicated in Zimbabwe’s murky diamond industry.
Mhlanga has been embroiled in battle with South Africa’s KwaDukuza Municipality, over building approvals for his development, as reported by SW Radio Africa in July last year.
Last year, the municipality obtained an order from the Durban High Court “stopping construction and occupation of the mansion”, citing potential impact on neighbouring properties and the environment.
In response, Mhlanga argued that he had not sought to flout building regulations, had taken expert advice, and that one of the two properties on which the development was located was agricultural land, for which no building plans were required, while the other had been rezoned.
Mhlanga’s lawyer, Lazelle Paolo, confirmed to South Africa’s IndependentOnline Friday that the building plans had not yet been approved.
The paper also reports that KwaDukuza council has indicated that although the issue over the building plans was still unresolved, the court had ruled that the construction work could continue.
Mhlanga is not just a property developer. International human rights group Global Witness Mhlanga revealed that he is a key player in the murky diamond mining in Marange. The group revealed that 25% of the Mbada mining firm was given to a company linked to Mhlanga, a Mugabe appointee.
The company is said to have ‘silent’ Chinese military partners. In 2010 the UK Daily Mail alleged that Mbada was the public face of a diamonds for arms deal between Zimbabwe and China, with China in effect funding Mugabe’s war chest.
While the completion of Mugabe’s sprawling property will be good news to the First Family and his corrupt associates, most Zimbabweans remain locked out of the country’s vast mineral resources and will be shocked by such opulence and waste.
In February, Finance Minister Tendai Biti was heavily sanctioned for revealing that the country was on the very of bankruptcy. Biti has in the past expressed disappointment that Zimbabwe’s multi billion diamond sector has not yielded much, with very little trickling into treasury coffers.
Political commentator Clifford Mashiri said despite the denials of ownership of the property by Mugabe who has always wanted to project himself as pro-poor, his vast property portfolio, which extends beyond Zimbabwe, suggests that this is just political rhetoric.
Mashiri said that the security features on the South African development alone would suggest that Mhlanga is just fronting for Mugabe.
He said: “Mugabe has properties in Zimbabwe and as far as Hong Kong. It’s simply a political strategy he uses to win votes.
“This is not a home for an ordinary Zimbabwean, but one who is very afraid and has a lot of resources at his disposal,” Mashiri added.
Zimbabwe sits on what is thought to be the one of the world’s largest diamond reserves and has the second largest platinum reserves of platinum, among other resources. Despite all these, the country continues to scrounge for money, even failing to fund its own elections.