Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace built up a huge personal fortune and property empire while their countrymen suffered in the starvation and grinding poverty that his brutal regime brought about.
Mugabe, who died in Singapore today at the age of 95, owned a lavish 25-bedroom mansion in Harare and a luxury villa in Hong Kong while his playboy sons lived in luxury in Dubai and South Africa.
Leaked diplomatic cables estimated the family wealth at more than $1billion, including six residences and a series of farms around the country.
The controversial land seizures which the Zimbabwean President claimed would distribute land to poor black people also boosted the Mugabes’ own property empire, while causing economic crisis.
The Mugabe mansion in Harare’s Borrowdale suburb became known as the Blue Roof house for its turquoise tiles imported from China.
Set in extensive grounds, the property had 25 bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms and spas, massive reception rooms and a series of offices.
It was rarely pictured and there were severe penalties for taking photographs of the presidential home.
Originally built to house the ruling white elite during the colonial era, it is now home to Zimbabwe’s leadership and Mugabe’s successor Emmerson Mnangagwa also has a home there.
The Mugabes also had use of the official State House.
One U.S. diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks said that ‘the full extent of President Mugabe’s assets are unknown, but are rumoured to exceed $1billion in value’. That was in 2001.
The cable also revealed that an engineering firm chaired by Mugabe’s nephew had won a contract to build a new airport terminal in Harare.
The Zimbabwean President was thought to have made millions of U.S. dollars from the deal.
On top of that, the Mugabes bought a £4million villa in Hong Kong in 2008, just as his reign appeared under threat in a controversial election.
They purchased the three-storey villa after Mugabe’s 20-year-old daughter began studying at the University of Hong Kong, according to reports at the time.
That year Mugabe lost the first round of the presidential vote against his long-time rival Morgan Tsvangirai.
But Tsvangirai dropped out of the second round after a campaign of violence against his supporters and Mugabe sneaked back into power.
Grace Mugabe was known for her shopping and holiday trips to Asia, including Hong Kong and Bangkok, and earned the nickname ‘Gucci Grace’.
The former first lady set up a school and ran a dairy farm in Mazowe, projects that she said would boost Zimbabwe’s devastated economy but were widely seen as an attempt to build a business empire for personal gain.
Land reform was supposed to take much of the country’s most fertile land – owned by about 4,500 white descendants of mainly British and South African colonial-era settlers – and redistribute it to poor black people.
Instead, Mugabe gave prime farms to ruling party leaders, party loyalists, security chiefs, relatives and cronies.
Many of the most profitable farms ended up in the hands of well-connected public figures including Mugabe’s wife, Grace.
Robert Mugabe was reported at the time to have given 15 of the stolen farms to himself.
Grace is also believed to own houses in South Africa, Dubai and Singapore.
In August 2017, Grace was accused of beating the ‘hell out of’ a young South African model who was partying with her sons in Johannesburg.
But last December, it was claimed Grace – whose property portfolio is worth more than £50million – had not paid her farm workers for three months.
That came after about 400 illegal gold miners invaded one of her farms in March 2018, and allegedly uprooted lemon trees, digging shafts and put gold ore on lorries.
The reports of her lavish spending and explosive temper earned her the title ‘Dis-Grace’ – and eyebrows were raised in 2014 when she gained a PhD in three months.
In the last months of Mugabe’s rule the family’s lavish ways became outlandish, even to Zimbabwe’s jaded public.
Grace Mugabe pressed a lawsuit against a Lebanese diamond dealer in which she charged she had paid him for a 100-carat diamond but he only gave her a gem of 30 carats.
One of the couple’s sons posted images on social media of himself pouring champagne over his diamond-encrusted watch.
The first family’s antics made uncomfortable viewing in a country which Mugabe’s regime had reduced to a basket case.
The farm seizures helped ruin one of Africa’s most dynamic economies, with a collapse in agricultural foreign exchange earnings unleashing hyperinflation.
Inflation reached billions of per cent at the height of the crisis before the local currency was scrapped in favour of the US dollar.