Mr Mbeki's Retirement Pad
Frenzied construction work is being carried out in a quiet
tree-lined road on Johannesburg’s Houghton Estate. But a few blocks from Nelson
Mandela’s residence, up a long drive, concealed by a last-minute turn from the
street, the retirement home of President Thabo Mbeki is nearing
The giant Victorian bathtub is in; half a dozen magnificent
chandeliers are lying in the hallway, ready for hanging. noseweek has had some
fun visualising the finished mansion: but it’s no joke.
retirement home for the Mbekis in a couple of years’ time,” says the project’s
architect Etienne Botha. “But we’re not 100% sure if they’ll live there then.
Maybe they’ll just sell it and build a new one later.”
special features are like something out of a James Bond movie. Next door to
Mbeki’s first floor office is the Siege Room, encased by steel shutters which
drop down in the event of an attack.
And, it is rumoured, in case things
get too hot and evacuation is the only option, there’s to be a secret
underground Escape Tunnel!
noseweek can confirm the Siege Room. “No, you
don’t press a button so the steel shutters slide down; you have to wind them
down by hand,” says architect Botha. “It’s a closedown sort of situation, in
case something happens.”
And the Escape Tunnel? It seems this falls under
the Top Secret part of things. “It’s not on the architect’s plans,” says Botha
cautiously. “I’m not 100% sure if they’re still going to do it. There are
several parties involved in this whole project – the security people, the South
African Police Service and the department of public works. It’s a hell of a job,
The old house that once stood on the sizeable stand has been
razed, leaving just a couple of walls now incorporated into the new design.
Mbeki’s wife Zanele has played a strong role in the construction of the
four-bedroomed double-storey thatched house, visiting twice a week to keep
things on track.
Mrs Mbeki’s original requirement, says Botha, was “just
a small farmhouse”. But it’s turned out to be a bit more than that. There’s an
impressive guest wing, and a lapa in the grounds for those summer braais. Plus,
of course, a solidly square guardhouse at the entrance to the property. An
underground generator has been installed to ease the irritation of municipal
On her visits, Mrs Mbeki has not been hesitant to use her
woman’s prerogative – and first lady’s clout – to chop and change from her
original brief. A recent whim: a lift to waft the couple upstairs in their
twilight years. A lift has duly been delivered.
Overseeing everything is
the department of public works, which indicates that the tab for the “small
farmhouse” will be picked up by the taxpayer. With an original budget of around
R8m, the cost has now soared to an estimated R22m – and still rising. Hardly an expense Mbeki can be expected to meet from his meagre
R1.1m a year presidential salary.
Builders of the Mbeki retirement
nest are Motheo, the BEE construction group headed by Dr Thandi Ndlovu, a
socio-political activist who has spearheaded the drive for women’s roles in the
development of black business. (Motheo built half the 6000 low-cost houses in
the Gauteng provincial government’s Mogale City project.)
The address of
our leader’s retirement retreat? We’re not telling. Neither will thumbscrews nor
the rack force us to reveal the (rumoured) location of the escape tunnel’s exit.
One needs not only a lot of capital to purchase such a
property and build such a dwelling, but also a very substantial income to
operate and maintain it - probably in the region of R500 000 per year in 2006
terms and considerably more if there is other than low-level domestic
If one earns R1,1 million per year before tax, then after tax this
will be about R700 000. After living expenses after about R40 000 per month or
R480 000 per year then one's disposable income would only be about R220 000,
surely not enough to staff, operate and maintain and R20 million
There's a law in this country that requires the authorities to
investigate the financials of government employees who consumption appears to
exceed their lawful income. It needs to be used in this case.
With acknowledgement to Noseweek.