Zimbabwe’s Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko has become one of the most talked about politicians in the southern African country.
Among others, his current residence continues to attract public debates especially because of the country’s ailing economy.
Mr Mphoko, a career diplomat was plucked from oblivion in December 2014 by President Robert Mugabe, who made him the second vice-president after an unprecedented purge in the ruling Zanu PF.
The purge was spurred by allegations that a faction in the ruling party led by former Vice-President Joice Mjuru was plotting to assassinate the 92 year-old leader.
Instead of helping rejuvenate Zanu PF, which was already under pressure for tolerating corruption and running down the economy, the new vice-president has brought unwanted scrutiny on the party through his lavish lifestyle amid growing poverty.
Zimbabweans, angry at unchecked corruption, rising unemployment and a crumbling economy, have been holding protests on almost a daily basis on the streets of Harare.
A leafy hotel on the outskirts of the city centre where Mr Mpoko has been holed since his surprise appointment two years ago is now a regular target of the protestors, who want him to move out to help reduce government expenditure.
According to media reports, the cash strapped government is paying $1,023 a day for the vice-president’s stay at Rainbow Towers, formerly the Sheraton Hotel.
The amount covers bed, breakfast and dinner for Mr Mphoko and his wife Lauranda as well as grandchildren, who at times stay with the top government official in the presidential suite.
At the end of last month, the family had spent at least $600 000 on their hotel stay, much to the chagrin of activists in a country where unemployment is estimated at a staggering 90 percent.
Mr Mphoko has shrugged public criticism of his stay at the hotel saying he is entitled to the privilege as he has no house in Harare.
But the former Zimbabwe ambassador to South Africa, Botswana and Russia, who is a shareholder in one of southern Africa’s leading supermarket brands – Choppies – has properties in the second largest city of Bulawayo.
The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has tried unsuccessfully to use Parliament to censure the vice-president without success because Zanu PF enjoys an absolute majority.
“The MDC is deeply concerned and indeed, saddened by the level of insensitivity, selfishness and prolificacy that is being exhibited by this man who also refers to himself as a war veteran notwithstanding the fact that his liberation struggle is rather shadowy and mired in controversy,” the party said in a statement.
“Mr Mphoko’s apparent love for living life on the fast lane is a monumental embarrassment not only to himself but to all patriotic Zimbabweans,” the party added.
Mr Mphoko’s controversial tastes hit the headlines soon after his appointment when his wife rejected two houses in Harare’s leafy suburbs of Ballantyne Park and Gunhill, where former Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam stays.
Mrs Mphoko complained that the houses were not suitable for her husband’s newly found status.
The government was to settle for a mansion in the Highlands suburb that cost $1.9 million. Mr Mphoko reportedly topped up with $400 000.
However, the vice-president has not been able to move into the mansion because his wife is not happy with the quality of furniture the government bought for him.
“The furniture was moved into the house on Wednesday and Thursday last week,” the privately owned Zimbabwe Independent reported on July 22.
“However, the vice-president’s wife visited the house on Tuesday this week and ordered that everything be removed.
“First, it was the other houses which she rejected and now it’s the furniture but her new demands have been rejected by the President’s Office.”
Mr Mphoko only moves out of the presidential suite at Rainbow Towers when there are visiting heads of state.
“The presidential suite is booked for the whole year. Mr Mphoko only moves out temporarily to a diplomatic suite if there is a visiting head of state,” the paper quoted an unnamed hotel official saying.
“Otherwise, the suite is now like his permanent home.”
The last time the vice-president left the presidential suite was on June 30 when he had to make way for Sierra Leonean President during his two day state visit.
In December 2015, he was displaced by visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping for only one night.
Frustrated opposition parties and activists argue that the government cannot afford the vice-president’s hotel bill because Zimbabwe has been struggling to pay civil servants on time.
“The MDC is absolutely disturbed by (Mr) Mphoko’s lack of respect and indeed, commiseration, with the majority of Zimbabweans most of whom cannot even put one square meal on the table per day,” MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said.
“Put simply, (Mr) Mphoko is a national disgrace. With politicians and government officials in the mould of Mphoko, Zimbabwe’s socio-economic quagmire can only but get worse and worse,” Mr Gutu added.
“The Zanu PF regime is struggling to pay civil servants their salaries and wages on time but we have a vice-president who wants to lead the life of a celebrity at the expense of a bankrupt government.”
On the other hand, Mr Mphoko has justified his stay at the hotel saying the facility was owned by the government.
“The day I was appointed VP of this country, I was staying at Meikles (another five star Harare hotel),” the VP said in a recent interview with State media, boasting that he was a successful businessman.
“According to government regulations, I had to move out to a government hotel, which is Sheraton (Rainbow Towers). The government has shares there,” he added.
The government holds less than four per cent shareholding in the company that owns the hotel through the Ministry of Tourism.
President Mugabe’s lieutenant was also dismissive of the accusations that the house the government bought him was too expensive.
“People don’t know what they are talking about,” Mr Mphoko said. “The house that the government has bought me is not even $3 million. It’s $1 million.
“I live in a government hotel. It’s as good as staying in a government house.
“It’s as good as (MDC leader and former Prime Minister Morgan) Tsvangirai who is staying in a government house.
“(Mr) Tsvangirai is staying in a government house, which is as good as staying at Sheraton.”
Mr Tsvangirai, who was in a power sharing government with President Mugabe between 2009 and 2013, moved into the Highlands mansion as part of his perks with an option to buy the property.
The VP also downplayed the expensive upgrades at his new Harare home saying the government had certain security standards for its senior officials.
He said his house in Bulawayo had also been upgraded in line with his new status.