PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe and the First Family are embroiled in a dispute with the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) church over the construction of a church building on land located eight stands away from the Mugabes’ private residence along Borrowdale Brooke road.
Stand 280 Borrowdale Brooke Road was bought by the Borrowdale SDA church years ago, but it has since been barred from building by Mugabe’s security details who say the structure would compromise the First Family’s security.
Consequently, members of the Borrowdale SDA congregation of the church’s Glenara North district continue to conduct their worship services at the Borrowdale Community Hall, for which they pay, whilst their stand lies idle. A senior official from the East Zimbabwe Conference, the church’s administrative body in Harare, confirmed to the Zimbabwe Independent that the church owned the Borrowdale stand, but declined to divulge why construction was yet to start.
“The conference is not involved in the construction of churches,” said the official speaking on condition of anonymity. “Congregants build their own churches and the conference only keeps individual churches’ title deeds. Borrowdale church has not raised the issue with us but I can tell you that we value the security of individual church members.”
However, a church member familiar with the on-going wrangle said the president’s security guards warned the church against any construction on the stand, saying it posed a great risk to Mugabe. He said while he was not sure when the church was barred from developing the stand, he had learnt of the order when he joined the congregation in 2010.
“We were warned not to build the church here because the stand is located in a high security zone and special clearance is needed for any form of development to take place,” said another church member.
“They (Mugabe’s security guards) said the congregation would make a lot of noise which would attract many people and compromise safety and security of the president. They keep telling us that the laws are likely to change after elections to allow us to build, but we have reached a point where we might be forced to sell the stand because it’s of no use to us idle.”
Surprisingly, while the Borrowdale SDA church has been barred from building, construction of a private secondary school is in progress just three stands away.
Borrowdale Brooke Academy, owned by Ian Henney, currently has one double-storey building, and construction was in progress when the Independent visited the school last week. Classes were in session and enrolment was also in progress.
Presidential spokesman George Charamba was adamant that Mugabe’s security guards were within the law to stop construction of any structure close to his residence.
“The president’s residence, whether State House, in Zvimba or Borrowdale remains a security issue,” said Charamba.
“There is no way structures can be constructed willy-nilly around such designated areas, and there is nothing like private property because this is the Head of State and we cannot compromise his security.”
On why the school is being built in the “designated area”, Charamba said the criteria used to vet construction of structures did give room for a school after considering security issues.