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Tinomuda Chakanyuka
21/04/2015

Cash moving mountains — case of Gweru Kopje

MAVERICK musician and self-styled philosopher Hosiah Chipanga once hatched a plan.
The “brilliant plan”, meant to escape the scourge of ever increasing prices of basic commodities, was to build his house on a hill top, such that each time prices would “go up” he would be perched way above their reach.
Clever plan it seemed, at least according to Chipanga.

Whether his plan eventually came to being is something else. What is certain, however, is that the enigmatic character was not the only one harbouring such a dream — to one day live atop a hill.

Others sharing similar aspirations with Chipanga may not necessarily do so for the same reasons the musician had for setting up base up a hill.

Although in ancient times mountain dwelling would probably have been associated with barbarism, deviance and failure to integrate with members of the mainstream society, trends have since changed over time, as societies evolve.

New communities of mountain dwellers have been emerging world over and in Zimbabwe too, as people spend fortunes defacing mountains and hills, moving and clearing earth to build multi-million dollar mansions there.
The practice has seen exclusive communities of affluent individuals being created, far from ordinary citizens.

Gweru, the capital city of the Midlands Province, has not been spared the trend and over the past couple of years the city has witnessed the emergence of a small, niche community living on top of a kopje, east of the city.

Although the kopje has always had houses such that the residential location was dubbed Kopje by the city fathers, most of the houses there were situated around the hill’s foot.

There are a few individuals recently, who seem to have chosen to sing from the same hymn book with Chipanga and have invested unimaginable amounts of money to facelift the kopje and build breathtaking multi-million dollar structures, with tongue-tying, awesome architecture.

Despite the liquidity crunch the country has been grappling with for years, the individuals have not relented in their capital intensive ventures and have nonchalantly put up striking mansions that have left tongues wagging and minds bemused as to how one, under such harsh economic circumstances, is able to pursue such a venture.

While Christians may speak of faith that moves mountains, the small community on top of Gweru’s kopje might as well bear testimony of cash moving mountains.

Of course there are other leafy suburbs in Gweru such as St Annes Drive in Lundi Park, where the who’s who of the city are domiciled, but the small community, perched on the east side of Kopje, stands out as one of the most eye-catching features in the city for both passersby and locals.

Notable characters who own houses in the small, niche community perched on top of the kopje are Great Zimbabwe University Vice Chancellor Professor Rungano Zvobgo, local businesswoman and property developer Mrs Smelly Dube, property magnate Mr Hito Musopero and businessman Mr Douglas Kanengoni.

A Gweru City Council official in the engineering department, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Sunday News that most of the stands in the area measured between 2 500 and 3 000 square metres.

Stands in such affluent areas cost $12 per square metre, according to the local authority rates, which places the cost of one residential stand at about $36 000, almost equivalent to the cost of a five-roomed house in a middle-density suburb like Northlea.

Real Estate agent Mr Victor Wasara of Trevor Dollar Real Estate in Gweru confirmed that Kopje suburb ranked among Gweru’s best and posh residential areas, together with suburbs such as St Annes Drive in Lundi Park and Daylesford.

“Obviously Kopje would be one of the upmarket residential areas in Gweru. If you conduct a survey you will discover that most of the people who own houses there are businesspeople and rich folks of town. The value of houses there is relatively higher and even the cost of buying a residential stand. Even when you are letting out a house, you can charge a little higher than in other areas. The value of houses in Kopje obviously differs depending on location and other factors,” he said.

Sunday News caught up Mrs Dube, the managing director of River Valley Properties, who is building a double-storey 15-roomed mansion on top of the kopje, and she revealed that the structure would cost her around $3 million to complete, including finer details such as walling, gating and landscaping.

Construction of the mansion at such a site, she revealed, required excavation to move and clear earth to level the ground.

Hiring an excavator costs about $200 per hour and Mrs Dube said it took her about one week to complete the excavation work, working eight hours a day. That would put the cost of excavation at about $11 200, the value of a two-roomed core house in Bulawayo’s high- density suburbs.

“After excavating and making the ground level, you then start on the foundation and constructing a retaining wall that stops part of the mountain from collapsing onto your house. A lot of reinforcement material is required for the foundation and the wall. That alone cost us around $150 000,” she revealed.

That amount is enough to buy a modern house in upmarket low- density areas in Bulawayo.
“Most of the material we are using is being imported from Asia, while the architecture was done in Lebanon. We have already ordered paint and material for the ceiling from Morocco. After putting the final touches I think all in all we would have used between $2,5 to $3 million,” she said.

Professor Zvobgo, whose colourful mansion many in Gweru say is outstanding, refused to be drawn into discussing the amount of investment he put into building the three-storey structure.

“Shamwari, (my friend) why don’t you come to Harare and see how many beautiful houses are being built here. You certainly cannot ask everyone how much they invested. Do me a favour, asking me such question would not be fair. This is my private life and I prefer keeping it as such. I have always answered questions on various issues but not this one. This is very very private,” he said.

However, Sunday News gathered that his mansion has 20 rooms, which places it in the same value basket as Mrs Dube’s.

Mr Hito Musopero’s house, one of the first to be constructed in the area, had been talk of Gweru since the early 90s before Prof Zvobgo and others invaded the area to build their own.

In spite of newer structures having been built in the area long after Mr Musopero’s mansion, the double-storey 20-roomed property remains magnificent and equally eye catching.

Sunday News could not get hold of the businessman to discuss how much he invested in building his haven.
Gweru-based economic analyst Mr Trust Chikohora said the construction of expensive houses in the country was not reflective of a healthy economy but actually signalled that something was wrong with the economy which he said had become more consumptive than productive.

“When you look at it, it’s just a small percentage of people who are able to build such houses when the majority are struggling. The small percentage of people with money can’t be reflective of a healthy economy. It simply shows that there is a problem in the economy. There is no middle class to talk about anymore, as we now have a rich few with the majority struggling.

“Such activity unfortunately does not reflect production. The sources of money for most of these people who are building huge houses are not quite clear. They are not associated with production. Few owners of these houses are involved in any productive activity,” he said.

Kopje is not the only suburb witnessing massive construction activity in Gweru as equally magnificent structures are being constructed in other suburbs such as South View, Hertfordshire and Woodlands, despite the cash crunch most Zimbabweans are contending with on a daily basis.
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