Anger at First Family's lavish use of tax money

HARARE - The First Family’s holiday break in the Far East has already been branded a PR disaster after the couple allegedly salted away millions for the annual jamboree after scaling back financial perks for public sector employees, and as First Lady Grace Mugabe is under fire for purchasing a $1,3m diamond ring through a Lebanese dealer Jamal Ahmed.

The ring was said to be the couple’s 20-year wedding anniversary present.

News reports claimed that the first family has spent $6 million of Zimbabwe taxpayers’ money on the latest vacation, which has seen it shuttling between Singapore, Dubai, Hong Kong and China.

Branding her “a vacation junkie”, analysts and opposition parties said the 51-year-old mother-of-four has been indulging in jet-setting, five-star hotels, and splashing out on expensive trips.

While the 92-year-old President Robert Mugabe and his wife do pay for some of their personal expenses from their own pocket, the amount paid by the couple is “dwarfed by the overall cost to the public”.

She is also often criticised for her pricey, high-end wardrobe, and is considered one of the best-dressed ladies in the country — with the price tags to prove it — with her sartorial spending inviting ridicule.

Her backers flatter her as a “fashion icon” on a “mission to make the world a better place for orphaned children.”

She runs the Amai Grace Mugabe Children’s Home in Mazowe housing 98 homeless and orphaned children.

“If we are to nurture the children into good citizens, then it means we have to do all we can to give them necessary support,” she said in a recent interview.

But some believe Grace’s lifestyle is lavish at the cost of the people of Zimbabwe, one of the poorest countries in southern Africa.

To her supporters, she is glamorous, beautiful, charitable and royal, but to many of her citizens, she is extravagant, meddling and possibly off-rails.

Political commentators claim Grace and her husband Mugabe, purchase “swanky stuff ... constantly” and “on Zimbabweans’ dime”.

Speaking on the $6m for the trip and the diamond ring, senior consultant at the International Crisis Group, Piers Pigou said: “Both examples reflect different aspects of profligacy by the first family and a related lack of accountability that, at a time of profound and widespread deprivation among ordinary Zimbabweans and much-needed austerity, further damage their image both domestically and internationally.”

The jaunts come as Mugabe has skirted the issue of bonuses for government workers in one of the most drastic measures yet to save money at a time of one of the worst financial crises that has seen government racking up a record budget deficit.

It also comes as the economy is collapsing; cash and fuel supplies dwindling, and State coffers dry that the regime struggles to pay salaries or bonuses, with public-sector strikes, street protests, and desertions by key allies.

Stephen Chan, a professor of world politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London told the Daily News: “Now is not a moment for conspicuous consumption by leaders or their families in any part of the world.

“Whether the money involved was earned by legitimate business or not, examples of modesty are important to a struggling population.”

The first lady has drawn comparisons at home to Imelda Marcos, who fled the Philippines at the climax of the army-backed “people power” revolt in 1986 and left behind staggering amounts of personal belongings, clothes and art objects at the palace, including at least 1 220 pairs of shoes.

Opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) vice president Kucaca Phulu said: “It shows the gross disrespect for the common people and the extent to which a party that purports to be a revolutionary party is actually exploiting us just as we were exploited by the colonial masters.

“They will face the fate of Imelda Marcos and others who have taken their people for granted in the past.”

One such purchase by Grace was a ring encrusted with diamonds and costing almost $1,3 million which she later rejected, opting to have a refund.

The matter came to light after Ahmed dragged her to the courts as his properties were confiscated by the first lady over the issue.

Last week, the High Court ordered Grace off Ahmed’s three properties which are in Harare’s leafy suburbs within 24 hours.

The first lady’s lawyer, Wilson Manase, has said he would challenge the provisional order but Ahmed’s lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, insisted that the first lady was in contempt of court, arguing a provisional order cannot be appealed against.

“The first lady’s defiance of a court order clearly shows that the political system in Zimbabwe, especially the State institutions that must hold politically-exposed persons accountable and prevent them from pursuing naked, self interest, have collapsed,” said academic Maureen Kademaunga.

“The system has atomised and chaos has become the new normal and because of this individualistic and unaccountable people like the first lady can get away with murder.

“The first family’s unchecked excesses have for long contributed to the intractable poverty of our people. Without a complete change of government and an aggressive programme to reform State institutions, we will forever be at the receiving end of this abuse.”

A social commentator who declined to be named said Grace’s diamond ring story is a tale of arrogant extravagance in the face of a starving nation.

“Her behaviour has shown how the nation has been dehumanised and taken for granted by an elite bent on milking Zimbabwe to the last drop.

“She represents a class that has turned Zimbabwe into a lucrative fish pond where only she and those facilitating and protecting this patronising pillage can catch the fish.

“The net result is the trickling down on corruption to all sectors of the civil service and the poor will suffer to eternity,” he said.

MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said Mugabe and his family want to lead a swanky and fabulous lifestyle of billionaires or some other such filthy rich celebrities when in actual fact they have successfully managed to ransack and loot the national economy of Zimbabwe; in the process leaving more than 90 percent of the population living as destitute and tramps in their own country.

“It really boggles the mind how the first family can have the audacity and temerity to go on a $6 million State-funded extended holiday in Singapore, Hong Kong, China and Dubai when millions of Zimbabweans are wallowing in abject poverty.

“These people are shameless. They have got absolutely no conscience. The Zanu PF regime, fronted by Robert and Grace Mugabe, is a disgrace to all of us Zimbabweans. These people should simply go!”

Peter Maregere, a peace and security analyst and doctoral researcher, said beyond the mere condemnation, extravagance and intransigence that goes with these obscene expenditures, the broader issues around the designing and implementation of institutions of governance that are transparent, accountable and responsive with clear and unadulterated recall mechanisms, remains a yawning gap in the country’s democratic endeavour.

“That such astronomical figures can be spent without remorse, without having regard to the context and the predicament within which the country finds herself in, is a serious indictment to ‘our’ leadership model as a nation,” Meregere told the Daily News.

“Inevitably reproving the individuals and not viewing this as a societal misnomer with the audacity of condemning the futures of our children needs careful trading.

“Invariably, this demands our collective effort in designing sustainable democratic solutions — a systemic process that is more heuristic and holistic in nature to accommodate both individualistic and societal approaches in the promotion of thought leadership located within the institutions I alluded to above.”

Comments (6)

I always ask my colleagues, where are we going as a nation? how does ZANU expect to solve the current problems? are there any sincere efforts from Zanu to solve the problems? one look at the budget allocation answers my questions: consider this; Min Of Defence $358mln; Home Affairs $396mln; while health and Agriculture are $302mln and $292mln respectively. meaning its more important for the government to defend itself than to provide good medical resources and food security. in other words they are saying we'd rather you starve, or die from disease, as long as we are in power. Or another classic one; Office of President and Cabinet (OPC)'s allocation($187mln) is more than Industry and Commerce ($18mln), Transport and Infrastructure dvpt ($56mln), Mines ($6mln kkkkk), local govt public wrks and national housing ($49mln) and Foreign affairs ($33mln) COMBINED! I rest my case...

Muongorori Wezvinhu - 11 January 2017

You are spot on @Muongorori Wezvunhu. If anyone doubts your analysis, they should just look at the budgets from around 1990 onwards. There was a shift from a country that sort of prioritized service delivery to a full on dictatorship that was concerned about self-presentation thus the change in budget allocatations. The military, CIO and Police became more and more involved in political decisions and policy making or lack thereof. From around 2001, there was a very clear and consistent effort by military bosses to militarize the parastatals and civil service, That was the doom and death of anything that was ever left of Zimbabwe. You Douglas Nyikayaramba and Constantine Chiwenga making decisions that are foolhardy, mostly based on stupid advise from young and inexperienced officers who are zealous and trying to impress their 'chefs'. Its a mess. The answer to your question is No they are not serious, never have and never will. They are only conerned about how they can make it through another day, another month and year. policies are made on the fly, and decisions are based on what is the best strategy to thwart people from ever having power to fight back. Why would the office of president need more money than the industry and commerce? What are they doing that will help the country move forward? And yet the cabinet ministers in the portfolios being robbed do not say a word. because they themselves are morons and incompetent.

gudo - 11 January 2017

Are there similarities between 'Dr' Grace Mugabe and Imelda Marcos. I will give prices for good answers. Tip: Imelda had 3600 pairs of shoes. Grace bought a diamond ring for US$1,3 million. Now divide this figure by 3600 and you get US$361,1 and this is the cost of a pair of shoes. I hear Imelda used to spend an average of $200 per pair. This means that Grace is actually spending more than Imelda Marcos. Her business is making loses. So where is she getting the cash from?? Answer: stealing taxpayers money. Anyway chisingaperi chinoshura

James Chari - 11 January 2017

Nhai anhu amwari, VaMugabe pavari paya, at 93, ndokufunga nezvevanhu vari kwa Gutu, Murewa, Chiredzi, Tsholotsho, Muzarabani. Haa nesu toita sedzisina kukwana. Zvingasataurwa zvazvo asi chokwadi vakuru vedu vaya vatova pamudyandigere.

Mutemo Pisa - 12 January 2017

This is madness,if it is true he takes $6m every trip .I think its true.My big question is ,to this day MDC has not liked the idea of at least bring this on in parliament.Maridadi tried to push in the motion but was shot down by his mdc comrades in parly.Why ,Why why.Yu cant expect Zanu mps to table the motion in parly,empeachment.If Gonose could master some stomach and be like Maridadi ,a signal may well be seen by mudhara.At least just once ,since 2000.

viola gwena - 12 January 2017

Guys we get what we deserve. As Zimbabweans we are allowing it. Come February 23...('m not even sure of the date) but, same story, $800000 cake!

Dakarai - 12 January 2017

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