The Mayoral Mansion in Gunhill was built by former Harare Mayor, Solomon Tavengwa. Construction of the manor took place from 1999–2000 at a value of Z$50 million (US$500,000) – a mind-boggling sum at the time. Following its construction there was a major outcry from ratepayers. Many residents viewed the building of the mansion as a misappropriation of funds and a severe misdirection of priorities, considering that Harare was starting to experience the beginnings of poor service delivery.
Over the years, many Harare residents have grown to dislike the mansion. Others have also complained that its construction was done without residents’ approval.
Complaints notwithstanding, the house is a world class manor. It has six bedrooms on the first floor, an airy functions area, an industrial-size kitchen, a family kitchen, two colossal lounges, a dining room, an outlandish mayor’s suite on the ground floor, a powder room, large cloakroom, several lobbies and a luxurious bar. Most rooms are carpeted with wall-to-wall imported Persian carpets.
Although the cottage in the backyard was meant to be staff quarters, it is also quite extravagant and about the same size as an ordinary house in Harare’s suburbs. The mansion is surrounded by vast lawns and includes a sizeable pond.
In spite of these luxurious specs, including expensive curtains and furniture, only two individuals have lived in the house since its construction. These are former mayor Engineer Elias Mudzuri (2002–2003) who once occupied the cottage and former Harare Commission chairperson Sekesai Makwavarara, (2006–2008) who had a stint in the mansion itself.
The house seems to be politically jinxed, as both occupants were later dismissed over controversies, some of which reportedly emanated from their association with the mansion. This has led subsequent mayors such as Muchadeyi Masunda refusing to live in the house, arguing that he could not live extravagantly at the expense of rate payers.
After years of non-occupation (from 2008 to 2014), the mansion is now being used as council offices, a conference centre and as a reception facility. But some residents still feel that the mansion is being underutilised, considering the huge amount of money that was put into its construction.
Esther Chimanikire, who is the lobby and advocacy officer for the Harare Residents Trust (HRT), has said that it is better for council to sell or rent out the mansion, as it was not generating income equivalent to the resources that were used for its construction.
“It is another case of misappropriation of public funds. Residents lost out when that mansion was constructed because the money that was used was supposed to be channelled towards service delivery. There is need for a valuation of the mansion so that residents know its actual value,” said Chimanikire.
On the other hand, a former municipal journalist who has written extensively about the mayor’s mansion since its construction says that the idea behind the construction of the mansion was noble, as it provided appropriate accommodation for the mayor, a fact which he believes should boost investor confidence.
“People are complaining now because the economy has gone down, but during its construction, the economy was fine and there was no one complaining about it. I believe the construction was done in good faith, but along the way things started to decline and residents started complaining,” he explained.
As a publicly-owned building, what is key is that it is used to benefit rate payers across the city who funded its construction. How this can be done is a question that must be interrogated.
What do you think should be done with Harare House? Email [email protected] with your comment.