ZIMBABWE vice-president Phelekezela Mphoko is closing in on 400 days living in a luxury hotel, a stay that is estimated to have cost the country’s long-suffering taxpayers at least $250,000.
Mphoko seems to have benefitted from a deal that gave him a good rate for long stay, but it’s more the symbolism of it that rankles Zimbabweans struggling to make ends in a battered economy.
Mphoko checked into the hotel on December 14, 2014 shortly after he was picked as one of the southern African country’s two deputies to Robert Mugabe, the private Newsday daily reported.
He lives in a presidential suite on the 17th floor, where he has also taken up extra rooms for his children and aides, in addition to an office. But he last month had to temporarily make way for visiting Chinese president Xi Jinping.
The Zimbabwean government last month said it had found accommodation for the politician, a house worth an estimated $3.5 million in the upmarket Grange suburb, but it was still under renovation to make it befitting of a vice president.
His wife is reported to have rejected three other houses, saying they were too small for her husband’s stature.
The daily also reported that the couple had turned down to a move to house occupied by a former vice president, saying they wanted their own residence.
Mphoko, a former liberation struggle stalwart and long-serving diplomat plucked from relative obscurity by Mugabe, has looked to be in limbo as a succession battle unfolds, pitting his co-vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa against First Lady Grace Mugabe.
He is known to be very close to South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, a relationship cultivated during exile days in Mozambique. Zuma was his best man at his nuptials in Maputo in 1977 and he is thought to hoping to benefit from any fall-out in the succession battle.
Playing second fiddle?
But his image which has has sought to rather unsuccessfully elevate to that of Mnangagwa, has taken some recent hits, including when he in October struggled to explain why he had been reduced to introducing Grace at a flurry of rallies last year, while travelling by road and she by chopper.
Grace, he said, represented the ailing Mugabe and thus deserved the same respect.
“The media asks why I introduce her. There are three families here which are His Excellency and his wife, VP Mnangagwa and his wife as well as VP Mphoko and his wife.” The three families were inseparable, he laboured to explain.
Earlier in June his wife’s robbed of goods worth one million rand ($82,000 at the time) by fake police officers in South Africa. Laurinda lost a Cartier watch, a ruby and diamond ring and cash and mobile phones after four men masquerading as police officers stopped them at a busy intersection in northern Johannesburg.
Zimbabwe’s economy shrank by about 40% between 2000 and 2009 after the ruling Zanu-PF party backed a seizure of most of the country’s white-owned farms.