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Costly house goes ahead

Harare's fallen son won't give up on the Cape mansion that made Mugabe see red

It has cost him dearly: a stint in jail, public humiliation and his job as one of Robert Mugabe's most influential advisers.

But the ousted Zimbabwean minister of finance, Christopher Kuruneri remains determined to keep his palatial home in South Africa.

From the outside, the mansion - overlooking one of the country's most exclusive seaside suburbs, Llandudno in Cape Town - is starting to resemble an architectural marvel, but inside it is still an empty shell.

Kuruneri was arrested in 2004, while he was still the minister of finance, for violating strict Zimbabwean foreign exchange control regulations when he allegedly released millions from his bank accounts to pay for several South African properties and a R500000 Mercedes-Benz.

Between 2001 and 2002, he bagged a R2-million mansion in Apostle Road and a R2.7-million house in Sunset Avenue, both in Llandudno. He also acquired an up-market flat in Sea Point.

Kuruneri demolished the Sunset Avenue house and started construction on his dream four-storey (one of them underground), eight-bedroom, three-garage home with panoramic views of the ocean - for a rumoured R30-million.

The building project came to a grinding halt when President Robert Mugabe heard about the property acquisitions in South Africa and had Kuruneri arrested - even though the finance minister denied the hefty price tag at the time.

Kuruneri went on trial and maintained that his buying spree had been funded with money earned from legitimate consultancy work he had done abroad. In 2007 he was acquitted of charges related to violating exchange control regulations.

Kuruneri's legal troubles meant that the unfinished mansion remained a festering sore in the posh suburb.

Irate residents last year gave the City of Cape Town an ultimatum: bulldoze the property or face court action compelling them to do so.

This week the Sunday Times established that Kuruneri and his construction project manager, Chris Hayman, had struck a deal with the city to complete the exterior of the building so that it was no longer an eyesore. This buys him time to complete the building, said Hayman.

Kuruneri put his Apostle Road home on the market for more than R13-million two years ago, but at the moment the home is being leased. Money from that sale will be pumped into the construction of the Sunset Avenue property.

A Llandudno resident who did not want to be named said he had established that Kuruneri would spend up to R2-million sprucing up the exterior of the home.

Hayman said doors and windows would be installed and a boundary wall erected.

When the Sunday Times visited the property this week, 10 men were hard at work.

Weeds have been removed and work is progressing on a swimming pool with an adjoining Koi pond.

Hayman said Kuruneri has been to South Africa several times in the last year and lived in his Sea Point flat when he visited.

Article by: Nashira Davids - www.timeslive.co.za