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Friday, September 9, 2011

Borrowdale Brooke luxury mansions, home of the Zimbabwean elite society

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Luxury Mansion of President Robert Mugabe in Borrowdale Brooke

Borrowdale Brooke mansion

The huge Borrowdale estate in north-east Harare with its steep hillsides covered with msasa trees and cut by the near ravines of the Umwindsi River and its tributaries, has always been the desired home of the "comfortably off".

Spectacular views, beautiful scenery and neighbours who are "our sort of people" provide serious attractions to those who have risen to the top of their business or profession. And now a new generation of wealthy men are moving into the estate amid an orgy of mansion building over the past decade, with builders and their earth-moving equipment a prominent sight.

But no one should plan on this suburb without some serious money. While the upper-middle income people might just be able to squeeze into Borrowdale Brooke, you will need a minimum of US$500 000 to build along "millionaires row" in Luna, Umwindsidale, Carrick Creagh and Helensvale all once sections of the huge estate.

The giant 55 000 acre Borrowdale estate was carved out by three officers of the British South Africa Company: Major Frank Johnson, Captain Maurice Heany and Captain Henry Borrow. Officers of the company column had larger land grants and the column commander and two of his company commanders decided to pool their grants. So from the beginning of Harare the estate has been reserved for the better off.

Borrow, who had the misfortune of being second-in-command to Allan Wilson on his ill-fated patrol in Matabeleland, gave his name to the estate when his surviving par tners decided it would be a pleasant memorial.

The estate was soon cut into sections and these were rented out as farms to people who Johnson and Heany liked. Helensvale was named after Helen Shaw, the new wife of the new police adjutant. Those who took Philadelphia, the Brook, Carrick Creagh, Hogerty Hill and Luna named their sections after their home towns or other associations.

The south-west corner, basically the bit between the present race course and Piers Road, was chopped off early on and subdivided into large residential plots before the First World War.

But the residential development of the rest had to wait until after World War II, and even then it was often piecemeal, the older sections being sold off as farms, then subdivided into "gentlemen's estates" which were further subdivided in time into very large plots, a process still going on.

This is why a visitor to Borrowdale will find the odd old farmhouse, or "country house" in a prime sheltered location surrounded by new buildings.

The process started with the areas accessible from Borrowdale Road and moved east, just as the almost similar development of the farm on the south of the Umwindsi River, Glen Lorne, started from Enterprise Road.

The slightly flatter Glen Lorne was more attractive to the developers of the 1950s and 1960s, hence the blocks of one acre plots on that farm.

Now the bulk of the land left for development is right in the north-east of Borrowdale estate, and the extreme hilly terrain means that plots must be large. Even the master plan for Harare recognises that sub-division will be difficult; the whole Umwindsi catchment is designated as very low-density.

Joining the "old money" a new breed of residents, buoyed by a seemingly incessant flow of money, is now transforming the face of Borrowdale.

Where you were likely to be greeted from a distance by overgrown treetops and an odd high mansion in the days of yore, now a visitor is greeted by a wave of rooftops.

But as you come close, you find that the "new money" likes its privacy as much as the "old money"; the 3m wall is almost standard.

This is the unwritten code of Borrowdale where Zimbabwe's rich and famous are spending huge amounts of cash on exquisite houses they invariably draw themselves into a cacoon of privacy.

"The people here need their privacy and they do not want to be disturbed this is why they put boom gates at every road," said one maid who declined to be named.

And it has come at a price for the residents.

For proper maintenance of the house one would need at least two maids, two gardeners and a chef, and that will set even the meanest employer back US$1 000 a month, plus the need for building a modest village in a corner of the plot to house the staff.

While mountain climbing is a pastime for some people here you need to drive as you navigate through the sharp curves and steep slopes to catch a glimpse of the breathtaking view of the new buildings.

Most of the houses are ready for occupation, others are nearing completion or at roof level while some have already been occupied.

"This is an area where you get to see the who's who in the 'money business' and some of the top politicians. As the clock strikes 6pm guys like you are not allowed to drive through," said one gardener who was busy slashing grass off the driveway.

Indeed, the neighbourhood is where you get to see the Reserve Bank Governor, Dr Gideon Gono and businessmen David Govere among others.

But some of those who own these houses are little known but they like to live in luxury. According to one property developer, a modest plot -- and the one acre is a rarety -- would cost you a whopping US$50 000 an acre and slightly around US$500 000 to complete the house.

In this part of town a borehole, pump station and an electricity generator that could power a decent factory are pretty much standard. All that fuel for the "private power station" adds to the monthly expense so even winning the lotto will not mean much; you need the income too.

A hillside swimming pool and tennis court needs a surprising amount of serious earth moving, all adding to the cost.

The reason for such huge amounts of money is that one needs to hire bulldozers, graders and other machinery to level the ground, or at least terrace a hillside to build the sections of your mansion.

The minimum you can pay is US$30 000 in this area but on average you would pay between US$50 000 to US$60 000 for just one acre and most residents want a few acres so they can spread themselves out.

Some hillside houses have to be spread out; there simply is not enough level space to build a single large mansion and the architect has to come up with several blocks of rooms on terraces.

Building costs per square metre are around US$250 to US$500 depending on the construction company, the desired finish and the need to split the house into sections.

However, cost does not equate to value as market determines the prices. But depending on the acres, features on the house such as tennis court, borehole, security wall, swimming pool and whether it is a one or two storey building determines the cost.

A total of 1 000 common bricks cost between US$50 and US$90 while the same quantity of face bricks cost US$100 to US$190. Semi-common bricks are being sold for US$40 to US$90, gutters cost US$9 per 2,4m, while ordinary door frames coast between US$24 and US$35.

Given such figures, one is able to judge whether they are able to move into these plush areas or just dream. Yes, in Zimbabwe, there are some rich men and to them these figures might just be figures as they plan and build their dream home.

Some areas of new development are still a little garish, compared to the "old money" parts of Borrowdale. But those gangs of gardeners, quite often directed by professional landscapers, are transforming the building sites and covering the 20th century farm fields with articulate gardens.

Within a decade or two the new trees, joining the surviving Msasas, will once again cover the hillsides with green; shrubs and ivy will mute the walls; and "new money" Borrowdale will become far more private and discreet, in fact as private and as discreet as "old money" Borrowdale. It will be a haven for the successful.


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