ZIMBABWE’S ageing strongman Robert Mugabe has approved plans to build a new city for his party elite near his home town of Zvimba amid suspicions that diamonds will fund the project.
If completed, the new settlement, situated 40 kilometres west of the capital Harare in the hamlet of Mount Hampden, could be the site of parliament, a new Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe building, a presidential villa and mansions for VIPs, as well as luxury hotels and shopping malls, press reports say.
Planners have included a wildlife sanctuary for wealthy residents to relax in – while modern wind and solar stations mean that they should escape the power shortages that still dog most Zimbabwean cities.
A promotional video says the city will “inspire future generations and serve as the country’s heritage,” according to the private newspaper Newsday. But the lack of clarity over the source of funding for the development has sparked outrage in Zimbabwe, where finance minister Tendai Biti of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has had to revise down economic targets this year because only a fraction of £374 million projected taxes from diamonds mined in the infamous eastern Chiadzwa fields has been remitted to the Treasury. Mr Biti says the gems are funding a “parallel government” run by Mr Mugabe’s Zanu-PF ahead of polls next year. The Zvimba project is the brainchild of local government minister Ignatius Chombo, a former teacher whose fabulous wealth was inadvertently revealed during messy divorce proceedings in 2010.
“A new university, technology centre, schools, churches, hospitals and an industrial site are some of the landmarks promised in the video,” said Newsday.
The development is modelled on the exclusive suburb of Sandton in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The public works minister, the MDC’s Joel Gabbuza – who should be in charge of the project – said he was being kept in the dark: “The project is shrouded in secrecy. A parliamentary committee was appointed, which was supposed to be chaired by my ministry, but I later gathered it was being chaired by Chombo. When I queried it, I was told that Chombo was simply there to provide land,” he said.
Mr Mugabe’s spokesman, George Charamba, downplayed the plans this weekend, insisting only a parliament building was to be built. “Could [the reports] be referring to the new site atop Mount Hampden for the proposed new parliament which the Chinese have offered to build at no cost to government and the people of Zimbabwe?” he wrote in the Saturday Herald.
But Minister Chombo said in a separate interview: “The satellite city will be properly planned with residential houses, state-of-the-art shops, hotels and offices. This will ease congestion in Harare.”
Mr Mugabe, 88, was born in the Zvimba district and regularly travels home. The road linking Harare to Zvimba was recently upgraded.
University of Zimbabwe political analyst John Makumbe told The Scotsman: “There are already workmen there. The money is largely coming from the Chinese. They will be compensated by diamonds they are mining from the Chiadzwa fields.”