VICE-PRESIDENT Phelekezela Mphoko will soon move out of the luxurious presidential suite at Rainbow Towers Hotel where he has been staying for the past 587 days under a storm of controversy as government nears completion of renovations at his US$2 million Highlands mansion in Harare.
BY Herbert Moyo/Elias Mambo
Disclosures that Mphoko is set to move out come as it emerged the cash-strapped government is paying a US$1 023 bill a day for his stay at the former Sheraton hotel. The amount covers expenses for bed, breakfast and dinner. To date Mphoko has gobbled close to US$600 000 in hotel bills at a time government is struggling to pay civil servants’ salaries. An average civil servant earns US$500.
This also comes as latest details of his accommodation saga show Mphoko’s wife Laurinda has been stalling progress on renovations and their relocation by rejecting furniture bought by the state.
Laurinda previously rejected several houses — including two in the leafy Ballantyne Park and Gunhill suburbs — which government wanted to buy for the vice-president, claiming they were too small and ordinary, thus unsuitable for his status.
After a long search, government found a mansion for him at Number 5 Corfe Road, Highlands. The house cost US$1,9 million and Mphoko — who runs businesses including a supermarket chain — topped up with over US$400 000. When complete and everything has been considered, the house will cost at least US$2 million.
Mphoko has been staying at the Rainbow Towers since moving out of the upmarket Meikles Hotel following his appointment as vice-president in December 2014.
However, he is expected to move to his new mansion near Highlands Primary School anytime soon after government put furniture into the house last week.
Senior government officials say government wants Mphoko to move out of the hotel as soon as possible given surging public outrage over his long stay there and the attendant irresponsible wastage of public resources in the process.
Mphoko’s wife, however, is further delaying the move as she is protesting that the furniture bought by the state was not good enough for them. But officials say the Office of the President and Cabinet is insisting the furniture will not be replaced as it belongs to the state.
“The furniture was moved into the house on Wednesday and Thursday last week,” a senior government official told the Zimbabwe Independent this week. “However, the vice-president’s wife visited the house on Tuesday this week and ordered that everything be removed. First, it was the other houses which she rejected and now it’s the furniture. But her new demands have been rejected by the President’s Office.”
The Independent this week visited Mphoko’s new house, but could not take clear pictures of it as it is not visible from the road. It is covered by a dense thicket of tall trees and a security wall approximately two metres high.
Only tiles on the rooftop could be seen from the road, while fresh patches on the upper reaches of the wall suggested an electric fence had only been recently installed.
The road leading up to the property was undergoing rehabilitation with work being carried out to resurface it and fill in potholes. Technicians from the state-controlled fixed telephone provider, TelOne, were busy installing cables, which they said were meant to facilitate telephone and internet services at the house.
Mphoko was appointed co-vice-president alongside Emmerson Mnangagwa after the dismissal of their predecessor Joice Mujuru.
Informed government and hotel sources said the presidential suite, which Mphoko stays in, is a four-roomed complex which has a mini-kitchen, lounge and a spacious bedroom.
“The kitchen has a fridge and a microwave. Cooking is however not done there because everything is served from the hotel restaurant,” a source said. “Mphoko’s suite is guarded around the clock by an armed police officer from the VIP Police Protection Unit.”
When the Independent news crew visited the hotel this week, the police officer was seated outside the presidential suite.
Each day Mphoko spends in the hotel, he chews up salaries for two senior civil servants. Investigations by the Independent show Mphoko’s stay in the presidential suite Room Number 1711, on the 17th floor, costs US$900 per night for bed and breakfast. Mphoko is served dinner, which is pegged at US$123, thus bringing the total cost to US$1 023 per day.
The Rainbow Towers’ 17th floor has diplomatic suites whose costs are lower than the presidential one, but Mphoko prefers the de lux suite.
“The presidential suite is booked for the whole year. Mphoko only moves out temporarily to a diplomatic suite if there is a visiting head of state,” a senior hotel manager said. “Otherwise, the suite is now like his permanent home.”
Government paid US$1,5 million for Mphoko’s house in March and he topped up US$400 000 from his pocket besides renovation costs. The government also bought another US$1,5 million house for Mnangagwa in Borrowdale.
Mphoko’s long stay in the hotel at taxpayers’ expense sparked protests from pressure groups and activists in December last year during the International Conference on Aids and STIs in Africa.
It has also drawn fierce criticism from the general public who view him as wasteful and insensitive compared to the likes of the late former vice-president John Nkomo who lived in a modest house in Milton Park. Former vice-presidents Joshua Nkomo and Joseph Msika also lived in modest houses in Mandara.
Last month an angry group of placard-waving protestors drawn from the National Vendors Union, Restoration of Human Rights and militant pressure Tajamuka/Sesijikile stormed the hotel, demanding Mphoko vacates the property as his continued stay there demonstrated extravagance and insensitivity to the plight of the majority of suffering.
Mphoko, however, claims his stay at the hotel is justified as it is a government-owned property, averring “it’s as good as staying in a government house.” He also says he was no different from former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai who is staying in a government-owned house in the same neighbourhood.
But Mphoko’s claims are incorrect and misleading. Besides government, the hotel, which is owned by the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed Rainbow Tourism Group, has diverse shareholders, including Nicholas van Hoogstraten and nominees of South African bank Stanbic, who hold 32% and 19,9% equity stake respectively.