Plush government home haunts Tsvangirai

Home sweet deal home: A wing of Morgan Tsvangirai's Highlands house, which the opposition leader has not paid for. (Supplied)

Home sweet deal home: A wing of Morgan Tsvangirai's Highlands house, which the opposition leader has not paid for. (Supplied)

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's upmarket government house, which he moved into last year after marrying his wife, Elizabeth Macheka, has come back to haunt him – it is now being used to wring political concessions out of him by his arch-rival President Robert Mugabe before the anticipated elections, officials of Tsvangirai's party and the government have said.

Government officials familiar with Mugabe and Tsvangirai's weekly Monday meetings said this week that Mugabe and Tsvangirai had resolved that the prime minister would keep the house – even if the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T), which he leads, lost at the polls.

The officials said the issue of the house was part of a wider conversation about whoever the loser of the elections was must "accept defeat and the winner should be graceful in victory".

The officials said the discussion then turned to the matter of the house: Tsvangirai wanted  to know what would happen about it if he lost the elections.

The house in the plush Highlands suburb is now, after extensive renovations paid for by the state, valued at more than $3.5-million.

If Tsvangirai wins the elections, then he will keep the house, which technically still belongs to the state, without the need for Mugabe's benevolence. 

But if he loses, he will have to  leave it or buy it from the government – if it agrees to sell it to him. Mugabe approved the use of state funds in 2009 to buy the house for Tsvangirai but he has not repaid the money so, in principle, the state still owns it.

House a 'poisoned chalice'
Tsvangirai has hinted publicly that he and Mugabe have a deal to ensure the election results will not be disputed. He has also said Mugabe would accept defeat – as Tsvangirai would – if Mugabe lost.

The officials said Mugabe and Tsvangirai had come to an understanding that the winner would be magnanimous and adopt an approach to unite the nation.

"The house has now come back to haunt Tsvangirai.
He wants to keep the property without repaying the money he was given to buy it, even if he loses elections, but that now depends on Mugabe's generosity," a senior government official said.

"As a result of that, the house is now turning out to be a poisoned chalice. It has become a major political bargaining chip because Mugabe knows that Tsvangirai wants it badly. He does not want to go back to live in the modest Strathaven suburb where he used to reside."

But Tsvangirai's spokesperson, Luke Tamborinyoka, this week denied that there was such a deal. He said Tsvangirai was "entitled to the house" and it was "not a favour from anyone".

Tamborinyoka said there was also no chance Tsvangirai would lose the poll so there was no need for a discussion about retaining the Highlands house.

The Reserve Bank agreed to give Tsvangirai $1.5-million to buy 49 Kew Drive in Highlands after his party withdrew from the government of national unity in October 2009. The money was paid to him the following month.

The Zimbabwe Independent last year reported that the money was transferred to the prime minister from the CBZ Bank to several other banks, among them ZB, BancABC and Interfin. But there were accusations that Tsvangirai's nephew, Hebson Makuvise, Zimbabwe's ambassador to Germany, had misappropriated the funds. Tsvangirai denied the allegations, claiming the money was a "loan".

Tsvangirai further took about $2-million from the treasury for renovations, leading to accusations of double dipping. This prompted the police to open a criminal investigation into the matter.   

However, Mugabe opposed the investigation at the time, warning the police "not to just rush to make up things against the prime minister".

After that, the police dropped the investigation.

MDC-T members concerned about concessions
Six members of the MDC-T's national council and national executive this week expressed concern over what they perceive as concessions being made by Tsvangirai to Mugabe on issues they consider critical. These included the recent appointment of a former Zanu-PF non-constituency MP, Justice Rita Makarau, as the new chairperson of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission after the resignation of retired judge Simpson Mutambanengwe, and the appointment of a Zanu-PF politburo member, Jacob Mudenda, as the new chairperson of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission to take over from Reginald Austin.

The MDC-T officials said they were disturbed that, after their national executive and national council resolved last July not to amend the draft Constitution, Tsvangirai colluded with Mugabe to change the document to accommodate Zanu-PF demands.

The officials said they have been complaining within the party about Tsvangirai's perceived "cosy relationship" with Mugabe. He had also abandoned most of the MDC-T's demands for political reform as outlined in the global political agreement and the elections road map drawn up under the guidance of the South African mediation team, they said.

"It's not just the house issue that Mugabe is using as leverage against Tsvangirai but his sex scandals as well. When the prime minister was under siege over his messy private life issues, it was Mugabe again who publicly defended [him] and all these favours are now being called in and he has to play ball," one of the officials said.

But Tamborinyoka said it was "hogwash to say as there is a cosy relationship between the two".

Tamborinyoka said Tsvangirai did not make any concessions to Mugabe over the draft Constitution. The document was "made by the people of Zimbabwe, who will show in a yes or no vote if they want the draft on March 16".

He said Tsvangirai, as a founding member of the National Constitutional Assembly, which initiated demands for a new Constitution in the late 1990s, would not "sell out to Mugabe".

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