ENERGY minister Samuel Undenge, who received suspicious cash payments of close to US$200 000 from a shadowy depositor in January, has splurged thousands of dollars on massive renovations of his Glen Lorne property in Harare since February, the Zimbabwe Independent has established.
By Herbert Moyo
Construction workers are said to be working round the clock, including under floodlights, to overhaul the main house and build new structures comprising a state-of-the-art gym to turn it into a mansion.
This came as the minister last week ordered state power utility, Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa), which falls under his ministry, to buy him a black Toyota Land Cruiser 200 series worth US$123 000.
The developments show a remarkable change of fortunes for Undenge, who does not earn much as a cabinet minister, and was only recently struggling to pay maintenance for his child.
The suspicious cash deposits — unearthed by the Independent recently — were made at a time the minister was entangled in energy scandals involving hundreds of millions of dollars.
They also came as Undenge irregularly authorised a US$5 million advance payment to convicted fraudster Wicknell Chivayo’s Intratek for the US$200 million 100-megawatt Gwanda Solar Power Project, shortly before receiving the suspicious payments.
Chivayo, whose dodgy Zesa deals top US$400 million, said last week he would soon get a further US$7 million despite protests over the US$5 million payment.
Government sources and residents around his property situated at number 729 Glen Helen Way, Glen Lorne, told the Independent the massive renovations of Undenge’s house started in February.
Coincidentally, the minister and his wife Letina in January and February received about US$200 000 from a suspicious source which forced the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s Financial Intelligence Unit to investigate the transaction.
Letina received a US$136 000 payment on January 15, and Undenge US$50 000 on February 3 through their Standard Chartered Bank accounts. The money ended up in an Old Mutual unit trust.
Initially, the house was a simple three-bedroomed property but Undenge has so far completed two blocks of what will constitute the main house and is now adding a structure block which will house carports and a gym.
A visit to Undenge’s house this week found contractors busy at work.
Amid lively banter, groups of workers were perched on the rooftop putting finishing touches to one of the structures. Residents around the suburb said the workers were toiling away round the clock to complete the house as the minister wants to quickly come back to his new mansion.
“At least two more buildings have been erected since work started in February,” one resident said. “It is a massive project and upon completion, there will be more structures inside, a bigger garage to accommodate several vehicles the minister is acquiring and recreational facilities such as the gym and other facilities. This will certainly elevate the property to a level of a mansion.”
Another neighbour said: “The minister is clearly in a hurry. He often comes to personally check on the progress.
There is a spot on the road behind (Gainsville Drive) where he loves to come and stand just to view and admire renovations being done. He even ensured floodlights were erected at the construction site to guarantee night shift.”
Undenge and his wife have reportedly moved into a house in Mandara, while the renovations take place at the Glen Lorne property.
It is said they moved together with the VIP guards from the Police Protection Unit usually seconded to provide security to ministers and other senior government officials.
From the vantage point of Gainsville Drive, one could see two blocks of buildings which sources said have recently been completed with new fittings and facilities.
“It’s clear his fortunes have changed, but we cannot say for sure how,” a resident in the neighbourhood said. “We don’t know.”
Sources said that prior to the renovations Undenge’s house, on an estimated 6 000 square metres of land, had become dilapidated over the years as he had no money to refurbish it. His financial dire straits were made public when he went to court to try reverse a US$350 a month maintenance payment ordered for his daughter.
As recently as December last year, he lost his High Court bid to have the maintenance claim overturned, saying his daughter was now over 18, thus no longer legally entitled to his support.
Justice Mwayera, however, ruled that although the daughter was 18, she was still entitled to Undenge’s support to fund her university studies until the age of 35 in terms of Section 20 of the constitution.
In addition, one of his companies, Fartingale Designs (Pvt) Ltd t/a Panashe Fashions, was involved in a legal battle with MIPF Holdings, a Harare-based estates and properties company, which accused him of failing to pay rent and other costs from April 2009 to 2011.
The total amount of the debt was US$40 000.
However, his fortunes dramatically changed for the better after his appointment to the Energy ministry where he is also accused of ordering Zesa to hire Fruitful Communications, a firm linked to Zanu PF Highfield West MP Psychology Maziwisa and former ZBC anchorman Oscar Pambuka, to carry out a media campaign despite the company having an internal public relations department.
Undenge did not respond to calls to his mobile phone for comment.