by Herbert Moyo
FIRST Lady Grace Mugabe’s empire built with the help of her husband President Robert Mugabe is fast taking shape, with her new mansion in Mazowe nearing completion at a time she is pushing hard to seize the nearby Manzou farm to set up a private game park at the expense of thousands of villagers who have been living there since the turn of the millennium.
The opulent double-storey mansion on Mapfeni farm should be finished soon as roofing has been completed, leaving the fitting of windows among minor finishings that remain.
Mapfeni, which stretches from Mazowe Hotel to Mazowe High School along the Old Mazowe Road, is opposite to Grace’s orphanage and the Amai Mugabe Junior School in Mazowe. Grace evicted close to 300 families to acquire it in 2012.
Upon completion, the new “Gracelands” mansion will be part of Grace’s list of residences which include the imposing “blue roof” that is the First Family’s private residence in the upmarket Borrowdale Brooke suburb in Harare.
The Mugabes also reportedly have overseas residences, which include the hotly-disputed Hong Kong villa where their daughter, Bona, stayed during her student days at a university in that country.
Named after American rock ‘n roll music legend Elvis Presley’s mansion in Memphis, Tennessee, the original “Gracelands” mansion was built in Borrowdale a few years after Grace’s 1996 wedding to Mugabe, reportedly at a cost of £500 000 from funds meant for low-cost housing units for civil servants.
The three-storey palace was later sold for an estimated £2,5 million profit to the Libyan government then under the late Muammar Gaddafi.
In addition, the Mugabes have a state-of-the-art dairy farm as well as an orphanage and school in the area. They have also reportedly accumulated as many as 16 farms, some of which were grabbed from prominent individuals and companies like High Court Judge Ben Hlatshwayo, and agro-producer Interfresh respectively.
However, it is the new mansion in Mazowe which appears to be the centre-piece of the ever-expanding Grace Empire in the scenic heartland of Mashonaland Central province — the home area of Grace’s nemesis, former Vice-President Joice Mujuru who was fired by Mugabe at the instigation of his wife who later inadvertently revealed that the conflict was over personal and family interests.
She was fired on allegations of plotting Mugabe’s ouster and even assassination, along with several ministers and senior Zanu PF officials, although Grace indicated Mujuru had actually threatened to evict her from Mazowe if she took over from Mugabe.
The Mazowe mansion can also be seen from Manzou farm which is constantly in the news as the latest frontier of Grace’s greedy seizure of more land, as she has fought since 2011 to evict thousands of villagers so that she can establish a game park.
It is not difficult to see why Grace covets the farm, which welcomes the visitor with picturesque scenery of rolling mountains and a lush green maize crop perched on the mountain slopes.
Tall, hardy Musasa and Mopani trees as well as creepers huddle close together on the slopes but at certain vantage points the sun streams through the leaves to allow a ravishingly beautiful view of the sun-baked Mazowe dam, the mansion as well as the school and orphanage not far below.
According to government sources, the dam could soon be providing water to the mansion and other structures around as pipes have been laid out to connect it.
From those commanding heights of the mountain even the two-metre high security wall surrounding the mansion cannot deny a probing eye from feasting on the lush green lawns, swimming pool and underground parking facilities that complement the double storey mansion.
Roofing is now complete leaving just windows to be fitted, suggesting that it may not be long before the occupants move in.
From closer range, however, all the Zimbabwe Independent news crew could see during a visit there on Wednesday was the entrance to the residence, which was heavily guarded by army, police and plain clothes security officers. Two granite block conical towers similar to the Great Zimbabwe towers stand either side of the gate. But from other vantage positions the view is clearer.
There is no telling how far Grace will go in expanding her empire even at the cost of ordinary people’s livelihoods. She remains mercilessly determined to evict thousands of villagers at Manzou farm to make way for her game park and only a High Court order is presently holding her back.
The disturbance of relocated Zebras has, however, not stopped some villagers like Makufa Moyo (57 years old), Jason Mvumbi (35) and Chipo Lakanya (39) from defiantly hanging in there in the forlorn hope they may be allowed to stay on permanently.
But such is Grace’s steely determination which flies in the face of government’s stated one-person-one farm policy that was torn to piece by her family as it amassed up to 16 farms.
Grace has angrily lashed out in public at former deputy Justice minister and current Mazowe South MP Fortune Chasi, accusing him of opposing her bid to acquire more land in Mazowe. Viable enterprises have not been spared as the First Lady grabbed Mazowe Citrus Estate last year, taking over 800 hectares of land belonging to Interfresh.
The land grabs have left Interfresh precariously on the verge of collapse, while investors were scurrying for cover fearing their money would sink.
Interfresh had total land holdings of 3 800 hectares but Grace has taken 870 hectares (23%), leaving Interfresh with 2 930 hectares (77%).
Yet it seems Grace has no intentions to stop expanding her empire
“The land is no longer sufficient to sustain the projects the First Lady has on her sleeves,” Mashonaland Central Minister of State for Provincial Affairs Martin Dinha said at the official opening of the Amai Mugabe Junior School last year. “We are working on the papers to stretch the land so that she can have more land to do her projects.”-AMH