HARARE – The trial of former Zanu PF national political commissar, Saviour Kasukuwere, has given Zimbabweans rare insights into the lavish lifestyles being led by the country’s mighty and powerful.
Except for a few individuals such as Philip Chiyangwa, Wicknell Chivayo and Genius Kadungure — who openly parade their wealth — most of Zimbabwe’s well-heeled prefer to hide their life of opulence from the prying eyes.
Not even a drive through Harare’s leafy suburbs can help unmask the life of opulence being enjoyed by the elite few in a country where poverty has swallowed in excess of 80 percent of the population, amid widespread unemployment, estimated at 94 percent.
To keep eyes from prying into their privacy, the haves have erected massive boundary walls — some measuring up to five metres high.
In an era of drones, some now go for architectural designs that make it difficult for even the most advanced lenses from taking a good aerial shot.
Last week, Kasukuwere inadvertently allowed the pesky paparazzi to intrude into his privacy.
In a bid to prove to the courts that he had to use an undesignated exit point to skip the country last November and save his life, Kasukuwere had no choice but to accede to an inspection-in-loco to defend charges of contravening section 24 (1) of the Immigration Act.
This also provided an opportunity for members of the fourth estate — the media — to accompany court officials into his Glen Lorne mansion, where Kasukuwere is residing with his family in a 50-room bullet-proofed house staffed by security details, chefs, and a live-in maid service.
Kasukuwere — who was represented by top Harare lawyer Jonathan Samukange — was being accused of border jumping.
Throughout the trial, he denied the charge saying he was forced to skip the border in the face of a real and present danger to life, leaving behind a luxurious lifestyle at his palatial residence.
Samukange had earlier revealed in court that the ex-Cabinet minister was used to living comfortably in Zimbabwe, but risked all that by crossing the jungles of Mozambique and encountering snakes because he wanted to save his life.
He had told the court that on November 15, he was viciously attacked at his house and asked the court to inspect the premises to see how he survived the bullets to prove his story.
During the inspection-in-loco on Tuesday, magistrate Josephine Sande was shown 113 AK 47 rifle bullet shells recovered at his residence after his family survived what he called an “execution” plot during Operation Restore Legacy.
The holes in the precast wall, guard room, kitchen entrance and windows were there as an indication that blanks were fired.
Law enforcement officials collected crime scene evidence at the sprawling mansion in a bid to understand the events surrounding the commission of the crime.
Kasukuwere staunchly denied that the attackers were robbers as suggested by prosecutors but insisted they were hit-men hired to kill him.
While Kasukuwere has escaped the charge, he has landed himself to immense public scrutiny amid suggestions that this could be just a microcosm of the life of luxury being led by the majority of the well-to-do in Zimbabwe.
Kasukuwere’s mansion is a sprawling two-level neoclassical mansion covering acres of Harare’s most valuable real estate.
It’s a ritzy palatial, gated grey mansion featuring ostentatious rooms that are opulently furnished, fancy portraits, and gaudy columned porticoes.
It must have cost a fortune to build that place.
Analysts canvassed by the Daily News this week said such a conspicuous lifestyle cements calls for senior government officials to be subjected to regular lifestyle audits, prior to and during their terms in office, to help curb what may be perceived to be State corruption.
At a time when the sluggish economy has forced many Zimbabweans to tighten their belts, they questioned how Kasukuwere managed to build such a luxurious home.
“He must be audited. But he is not the only one. What happened to that noise about asset declarations? How serious is the government to promoting such transparency?
The vacuity of such undertakings must be exposed,” said Piers Pigou, a senior consultant at the International Crisis Group.
Dewa Mavhinga, an international human rights lawyer, said government must ask all senior government officials, going forward, beginning with President Emmerson Mnangagwa himself, to declare their assets and sources of their wealth publicly so that citizens will know and raise red flags in cases of sudden and unexplained wealth.
The new president, who was sworn-in in November after Robert Mugabe resigned in the face of an impeachment motion, has signalled his intent to clean up the graft that has weakened the economy.
Stephen Chan, a professor of world politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, told the Daily News that the legends of opulence at Borrowdale Brook are many.
“Waterproof plasma screens in bathrooms. Dining room tables that are aquariums so guests can see fish swimming as they eat. These may all be legends but they speak to an indecent opulence, almost certainly provisioned by stolen money. The one thing you do not often see in these mansions are libraries full of books,” Chan said.
Asked if there was scope for a lifestyle audit, Chan said: “They’re impossible to conduct — but worth of property at time of purchase against total official income of the last 10 years is an indicator of whether property was well or ill-gained.”
Others on social media said they found it inappropriate that ministers were living in a whole house full of ridiculously ostentatious status symbols at a time when home foreclosures in Zimbabwe are at a record high.
They said it’s nothing short of obscene.
“Does he have to rub his extravagance in everybody’s face like that?” said Deng on micro-blogging site Twitter.