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High-rolling Mugabe and Wife Grace Plead Poverty: “We’ve only two properties in South Africa”

Former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe says he has heeded the call to declare all assets outside the country – but they amount only to two properties in South Africa and one in Hong Kong.

Days after he was inaugurated in November last year, Mugabe’s successor, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, announced an amnesty for the return of funds that had been sent illegally out the country.

The amnesty expires tomorrow, and Mugabe and his wife Grace told reporters invited to their “Blue Roof” mansion in Harare this week that they had complied with it.

They said they had declared two properties in South Africa and another in Hong Kong whose ownership was in dispute, and insisted they had no cash invested abroad.

“In South Africa I bought a dilapidated house, I wanted to bring it down, demolish some parts and to renovate the house,” Grace said.

“We are honest people, we have no money outside. We don’t have a house in Dubai. We rented a house there when our son was studying there, but then he decided to go to South Africa to finish his studies.”

Earlier this month, Mnangagwa said only $250-million (about R3-billion) had been returned to Zimbabwe during the amnesty, compared with the total of $1.3-billion that is estimated to have been sent out of the country during Mugabe’s rule.

This week, Mnangagwa – who took over last year when Mugabe bowed to pressure to stand down as president after 37 years in power – said that tomorrow he would “name and shame” those who had defied the order to return assets. He said companies were the main culprits.

Sources in the Zimbabwe government told the Sunday Times that one of Mugabe’s South African assets was a Johannesburg property worth R44-million.

They said Mugabe had acknowledged paying up to $500,000 a year in rent for the upmarket villa in Dubai where his son had stayed.

The sources said Mugabe – whose wife and sons are legendary big spenders – was pleading poverty. “He has so far failed to declare how his family could afford luxury cars and designer clothes,” one source said.

In his remarks to reporters, Mugabe – who turned 94 last month – denied allegations that he owned many of the farms that had been expropriated from whites.

“I only own one farm, which I bought with my own money,” he said.

Mugabe made clear his unhappiness at the failure of former South African president Jacob Zuma to intervene on his behalf when the Zimbabwean armed forces moved against him and forced him to resign.

Mugabe, with Grace at his side, said Zuma betrayed him and failed to protect him from the “coup d’etat”.

“South Africa could have done more,” he said, noting that the country was chair of the Southern African Development Community at the time the armed forces, led by General Constantino Chiwenga, acted.

Mugabe said Zuma sent only “junior officials” who were biased against him and “turned a blind eye” to what was happening.

Zuma sent a team led by the minister of defence and military veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, and the then state security minister, Bongani Bongo, to Harare at the time of the military takeover.

“They [Zuma’s envoys] had come here, they had seen the situation and then they went to say there was no need for intervention. That is because they had spoken to the commanders,” Mugabe said.

Abandoned by regional leaders
“South Africa did not have to send an army, but to engage more,” he said.

“You see this group of ministers that came; they gave a false impression that all was OK and they had spoken, not just to us, but also to the soldiers.

“Now if they had spoken to soldiers and then gave out that there was no need for intervention because they had been assured, then the other countries [in SADC] just sat on their laurels and they said, ‘Ah well, South Africa says there is no need.’

“Afterward, when the situation became worse, they didn’t want to change their original view.” Mugabe said when he realised that the situation was deteriorating he called Zuma and a range of other regional leaders including Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, former South African president Thabo Mbeki, Zambian President Edgar Lungu and Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi. He urged them to intervene, but they took no action.

“In a way I feel betrayed, but you have to also look at their conditions. Besides South Africa, most of them did not have the capacity to intervene. South Africa could have done much more, but they didn’t. They set a bad precedent,” he said.

Grace told the reporters she had advised her husband to resign to avoid violence. “I asked him to put pen to paper and resign. We didn’t want bloodshed,” she said.

Mugabe claimed “many people were killed” during the military action, an assertion that is not supported by any evidence.

“It was a coup d’etat. It was truly a military takeover. I don’t know what you would want to call it,” he said. “I feel betrayed by Mnangagwa whom I nurtured and saved from being hanged in prison during the liberation struggle.”

Zimbabwe’s former leader Robert Mugabe said he never thought new President Emmerson Mnangagwa would turn against him and denounced Mnangagwa’s move to oust him last year as a coup.

Mnangagwa had been vice-president until Mugabe fired him early in November, apparently sparking the military takeover.

Grace said suggestions at the time that Mnangagwa had been fired so she could succeed her husband as president were false.

“I didn’t want even to be vice-president,” she said, adding that she had favoured former defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi as Mugabe’s successor.

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