HARARE - A major Chinese mall and hotel project — built on a Harare wetland near the National Sports Stadium — is under military guard, in what could be a first for commercial assets in Zimbabwe, the Weekend Post can reveal.
With Chinese firm Anjin reportedly behind the mega Long Cheng Plaza, the gem mining company from Asia has also gone into numerous joint venture partnerships with the Zimbabwean army under Emmerson Mnangagwa and Constantine Chiwenga.
From the murky diamond mining operations in Manicaland’s Chiadzwa area, Zanu PF’s Hall of Shame in Gweru, the Zimbabwe Defence College just outside Harare and now the “frog Hotel” in the capital, the military’s hand is visible.
The property got its name following comments by Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) chief executive officer Karikoga Kaseke who said they would not sacrifice a lot of jobs to save 23 trees and a few frogs.
His comments were in reaction to Environmental Management Agency (Ema)’s demands to stop construction on environmentally sensitive grounds. Army spokesperson Alphios Makotore requested questions in writing.
However, the mall is probably the only commercial property outside government buildings that are guarded by the military.
Even cabinet ministers’ and the Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s residence are under police guard.
An official with the Chinese company identified as Zhuo Rui told the Weekend Post, the company possessed licences for both a hotel and mall.
“We have licence for both and the hotel should be coming on stream later this year. The shopping mall is ready and you can also come in to check,” Rui said.
Officials from the Harare City Council told the Weekend Post there had not been any changes in the approved plans and land use.
“As far as I know there was no change of land use. It is a hot potato. There are lots of people involved and some not so friendly people,” said an insider who refused to be identified.
Kaseke had said over $300 million will be invested in the new 300-bed hotel.
He said already, over 500 locals were working on the site, while over 3 000 jobs would be created once the hotel and shopping malls are complete.
“So some people wanted us to sacrifice thousands of jobs and forgo these massive investments in order to protect frogs and 23 trees. Why did they not complain when the National Sports Stadium was built?” he asked.
Another official said the Chinese wanted to raise money for the hotel using rentals from the mall.
“The hotel will be built behind the mall, they want to raise money first,” the paper heard.
Council spokesperson Leslie Gwindi could not confirm whether they had been any land use licence changes.
“I would not know but I am sure they do have. If they are saying they are licenced to do what they have done then lets run it like that,” Gwindi said.
Personnel in the company’s shop leasing office told the Weekend Post that most of the shops at the new complex have been snapped up by prospective tenants with rates pegged depending on the location of the shop.
“The only areas left now are the nite-club, a bar and cinema. We should be open for business early May,” an official who identified her name as Munatsi said.
She said rains had disturbed its finalisation.
“The shops are already fully booked and we had hoped to open for business in April but because of the rains we will have to do it in May. The rates vary depending on where the shop is located. We charge $8 per square metre for the top shops and between $22 and $25 per square metre on the ground floor,” Munatsi said.
The smallest shop is 36 square meters while the biggest are 100 square metres.
The current heavy rains that have lashed Harare in the past two weeks have presented the Chinese with a drainage nightmare.
When the Weekend Post crew visited the new shopping complex workers were busy draining water, by digging trenches to divert water gushing out of the ground.
Ema spokesperson Steady Kangata warned nature might revenge the invasion of the wetland.
“People must listen when experts speak. The problem is we always have this behaviour of concentrating on the immediate economic gains without regard to ecological and social implications. When nature fights back nobody can stop it and these people might have big problems as time goes on,” Kangata said.
Construction of the multi-million dollar “hotel” which began early last year was mired in controversy after Ema tried to stop the building arguing they could not build on an ecological wetland.
Ema threatened legal action against the Chinese firm and even approached Environment minister Francis Nhema but the Asians have become untouchables in Zimbabwe.
The environmental body then backed down reportedly to political pressure but not after reportedly fining Harare City Council for the same offence.
Zimbabwe’s military particularly the top brass has been fingered in murky deals with the Chinese chief among them the contentious Chiadzwa diamonds that came within a whisker of being identified as blood diamonds by the Kimberley Process. — WeekendPost