18 June 2012

Zimbabwe: SA Court Halts Construction of Alleged Mugabe Mansion

Photo: Al Jazeera English
President Robert Mugabe.

A court in South Africa has called for a halt to the construction of a R200 million luxury mansion being built by President Mugabe's former personal pilot, Robert Mhlanga. The property is next to the plush Zimbali golfing estate near Ballito in Kwazulu Natal and has two man-made lakes.

Several reports suggest the heavily guarded development, complete with bullet proof windows and an underground bunker, is actually a future hideout for Mugabe when he leaves office. The speculation draws mainly from the close links between Mugabe and Mhlanga, a key player in the murky diamond mining in Marange.

A report in the South African Saturday Star newspaper says the KwaDukuza Municipality obtained an order from the Durban High Court "stopping construction and occupation of the mansion." The reason for the court action is said to be the potential impact on neighbouring properties and the environment.

For many Zimbabweans the case highlights the obscene profits and wealth being accumulated by the ZANU PF elites in the diamond mining operations. Human rights group Global Witness have mentioned Mhlanga in two reports on blood diamonds in Zimbabwe.

According to the report 25% of the Mbada mining firm was given to a company linked to Mhlanga, who was appointed by Mugabe. 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 deals between Zimbabwe and China, with China in effect funding Mugabe's war chest.

The Global Witness report also says that Mbada's ownership details are far more 'opaque' that Anjin's, with a 'complex structure'. The report says that Mbada's associated companies are located in 'secrecy jurisdictions' or tax havens including Mauritius, Hong Kong, British Virgin Islands and Dubai.

Many will also remember how Mhlanga was a prosecution witness in the discredited 2003 treason trial of then opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. In the disputed 2002 presidential election Mhlanga was chief of staff operations at the National Command Centre, which controlled the announcement of voting results.

Mugabe's spokesperson, George Charamba, has meanwhile dismissed reports that the house being built by Mhlanga is actually for Mugabe. "There is no substance to that. The only relationship between them (Mugabe and Mhlanga) is the name Robert and that they are Zimbabweans," he told journalists.

Political commentator Pedzisai Ruhanya believes Mugabe will deny ownership of the mansion because "he is a politician and for quite a long time has tried to portray himself as someone who is not extravagant, as someone who is pro poor people and also someone who is not corrupt."

"So building a house for R200 million at a time when Zimbabweans have no electricity, when universities are not functioning properly, when social services are dysfunctional in Zimbabwe, will not point toward the character that he wants to portray of himself to the public. So he wants to use those rogue elements," he said.

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