Channel 4 is to screen one of Zimbabwe’s most ambitious self-building projects, following President Robert Mugabe's attempts to design and construct the home of his dreams on top of slums in the township of Mbare. Grand Designs' Presenter Kevin McCloud was invited to follow the work in progress over a period of three years.
McCloud said, “I was very excited to be asked to cover this amazing construction which was filled with hugely difficult obstacles from the outset, even with the limitless budget which was generously donated by Zimbabwean tax payers”
Viewers will see how just a few weeks into their project, the problems begin. Architects were unable to find a contractor willing to tackle the difficulties of building over a slum; the site manager unexpectedly disappears; and a local government planning dispute leads to a bloody massacre.
Can Mugabe still achieve his vision of a building that will change the architectural language of the slum forever? And what will the neighbours make of it all?
“What made things slightly difficult was that Mugabe, 88 and his 45 year old wife Grace, decided to live in a caravan as work was in progress so that he could keep a close eye on developments. There was also great controversy as foundations were laid over former Grade II listed mass graves as well as the construction of a replica of the Victoria Falls which local plumbers found to be a massive challenge.”
The size of the house dwarfs by three times the Great Pyramid of Giza and its interior decoration was by South African, Arab and Chinese designers and Kirstie Allsopp. “I worked on a number of themes for the house or mansion or whatever you want to call it, including designing a marvellous new range of Zebra striped bed sheets made from discarded slum materials. I also imported my second gift and homeware range from Marks and Spencer, which Grace was absolutely thrilled with.”
During the programme Mugabe points out to viewers that his new home will be not just be a house but a true sanctuary as part of a vigorous spiritual clean-up campaign to restore his own sanity. “An impossible task” whispered McCloud on his way back in handcuffs to the UK.
“But, this truly is a Grand Design and the most visible symbol of one man’s ambitions to not only display his wealth and power but to add a bit of hope that maybe one day some his 11.5 million people will be able to achieve the same dream.