Owner of Ballito lair revealed

Th original story, as it appeared in the Sunday Tribune, April 22, 2012, no page 5. The story was also picked by the Weekend Argus.

It might not belong to Robert Mugabe, but a controversial multimillion-rand Ballito property could very well belong to one of his allies, a diamond-dealing Zimbabwean who shares his first name.

The Sunday Tribune was told the property could belong to Robert Mhlanga, a former air vice-marshal who was, apparently, at one point Mugabe’s personal pilot.

Mhlanga was also a prosecution witness in the 2003 treason trial of MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Rumours that it was Mugabe’s house were first published by the North Coast Courier seven months ago. But it now appears the property belongs to a Robert from Zimbabwe – just not the one people suggested.

A nearby property owner, who asked not to be named, confirmed the owner was Zimbabwean. He said the man, whom he had met, was “pleasant”, but was a “very private man”. He only knew him as “Dr Mhlanga”, that he made his money through dealing in various commodities and had lived there for about eight months.

This was in line with other information gathered by the Tribune over the past week from other residents and business people in Ballito. It is also a job profile that matches Mhlanga and his companies.

“It’s typical of what happens in a small town. Someone says it’s Mugabe’s house and then that’s what it becomes in everyone’s mind. But it’s not him (Mugabe),” the resident said.

Robert Mahlanga, the man beleived to own the massive Ballito home many thought belonged to his namesake, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

Mhlanga is the chairman of Mbada Diamonds, a Zimbabwean-based company that was awarded mining rights at Chiadzwa, Zimbabwe, by Mugabe’s government. UK-based news organisation The Zimbabwean reported in a 2010 article that government sources revealed that First Lady Grace Mugabe had a substantial interest in Mbada Diamonds.

Mhlanga also has interests in a South African company, Liparm Construction, of which little is known. The company’s website indicates that it is involved in commodities, including diamonds, and mentions other companies linked to the diamond trade in Zimbabwe.

The Sunday Tribune has previously reported on a study released by British watchdog NGO Global Witness, which raised concerns about diamond mining in Zimbabwe. It named Mbada Diamonds as one of the companies it was concerned about.

It appears that Mhlanga certainly has the money to fund the massive Ballito development, which is estimated to be in the region of R300 million. The grounds are bordered on the south by the luxury Zimbali Estate and on the north by the old Pottery Gallery and the Hilltop Estate. The property starts just 100m from the M4 freeway, but security is tight. A large fence circles the entire piece of land and the entrance is guarded around the clock. A thick barrier of trees makes it impossible to see anything that’s happening inside.

But aerial pictures show the main house that fronts on to a swimming pool and a man-made lake, and has spectacular views of a second man-made lake and the Indian Ocean. There is some construction beside the first lake, but it’s unclear what it might be.

Further down towards the ocean, at the second lake, another big building is being erected, albeit smaller than the main house.

For more than a week, the Tribune has tried to find out about the property, even contacting the former owner of the land, Martin Sherwood, the main contractor on the developments, several sub-contractors and property agencies in the area. All would not speak or did not know who the owner was.

Sherwood said: “I can’t disclose who the owners are. One of the conditions of sale was that I sign a confidentiality agreement.”

He was asked if he could confirm or deny the rumours about the ownership of the land, but he said he was unable to do so.

Stefanutti Stocks, the main contractor on the project, also refused to comment. Director Graham Carver said: “I am not at liberty to divulge any information at all. I don’t want to discuss the project.”

He said that a confidentiality agreement had been signed, and the company won the work on a private tender. Earlier he had said he would provide the name of the developer, but later said he was not allowed to do so.

The top section of the 7ha property in Ballito, which borders the Zimbali Estate. It's owner is believed to be a prominent Zimbabwean businessman. PICTURE: BRIAN SPURR

An estate agent said: “Nobody knows who it is. There is a huge amount of speculation.”

Apart from the Mugabe rumours, it was also suggested that a Hollywood star – possibly Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie – had decided to make the prime piece of real estate one of their homes.

It has also been reported that Mhlanga was the chief of staff operations at the National Command Centre, which controlled the announcement of the disputed 2002 Zimbabwean presidential election results.

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