CONTRARY to western media claims that President Robert Mugabe is a billionaire, having creamed off the country's coffers over the 34 years he has led Zimbabwe, the 90-year-old is actually the world's poorest leader, his wife has said.
"Mugabe is the poorest president the world over," Grace Mugabe told traditional chiefs gathered to show their support for her political ambitions at the First Lady's multi-million dollar compound in Mazowe Tuesday.
Diplomatic cables released by whistle-blower syndicate WikiLeaks claimed the United States had discussed ways of seizing Mugabe's fortune which is said to be in excess of US$1 billion and allegedly deployed in various bank accounts and assets held abroad.
But the Zimbabwean leader challenged the West to prove he has any money hidden outside the country, adding they can donate to charity every penny they manage to find.
However, the Zanu-PF leader recently went to court claiming ownership of a US$5 million Hong Kong home he initially claimed to have rented for use by his daughter, Bona, while she was studying on the territory.
In Harare, the First Family now live in a private Borrowdale mansion, venue for Bona's wedding this year on which Mugabe reportedly spent US$5 million.
The palatial residency is so fiercely guarded from prying eyes that photographers at the wedding were ordered to focus their lenses only on the wedding party and not the venue.
In an interview with British broadcaster Sky, Mugabe conceded that the house was profligate, adding that "It is lavish because it's attractive."
He claimed the property was a retirement home, gifted to him by Zanu-PF out of gratitude for leading the country. Funding had come from the party, he added, as well as friends such as former Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad.
But the late University of Zimbabwe political scientist and critic of Mugabe, John Makumbe, was scathing, saying the Zanu-PF leader had demonstrated "insensitivity to the plight of the people he leads … He is happy to live like a monarch while the rest of the country is mired in poverty."
On Tuesday Grace Mugabe also revealed she has splashed over US$7 million on the Mazowe compound where she established an orphanage and also built up to 30 upmarket villas.
Even so, the First Lady, who is ridiculed globally as 'Gucci Grace' or 'Dis-Grace' for her alleged extravagant spending habits, insisted her husband was the world's poorest president.
"We are blessed because we have Baba Mugabe he is the poorest president. I have never seen him asking for money from anyone," she told the traditional leaders.
Early this year state media revealed that Mugabe's salary was also the lowest for any head of state and/or government in southern Africa.
"I am earning US$4,000 just now, because of the hard times this is what we decided on, that we should recognise the hard times at the moment," Mugabe was reported as saying.
The Zanu-PF leader however, recently donated tonnes of grain and ordered the slaughter of 30 beasts from his private stocks to feed youths said to have been starving at a Zanu-PF conference in Harare.
Years back, his wife was also accused of looting a low-cost housing scheme for civil servants to build a three-storey mansion in Harare's Borrowdale area which was dubbed Gracelands for its extravagance.
The house was later sold to the Libyan embassy for about $3 million, part of which Grace reportedly used to build another rambling country mansion at her Chivhu rural home.
The First Lady has also attracted criticism for her acquisition of farms in the Mazowe area.
But on Tuesday she defended the seizures saying it was her duty to lead by example.
Defending Mazowe farm seizure
"We agreed to grab this (Iron Mask Farm) so as to lead by example," she said
The Mugabes also own what is thought to be one of the largest integrated dairy enterprises in southern Africa but Grace said the investments were backed by bank loans she claimed now total $20 million.
And despite claiming her husband was poor compared to other leaders, Grace announced plans to build a hospital, a multi-purpose hall and the Robert Mugabe University.
Regarding the houses at her Mazowe compound, Grace quipped: "To be honest, I will never go and learn in this school; neither will I stay in these houses.
"What I am doing is I am doing it for future generations and the rest of Zimbabwe."
She was a simple country girl using her good fortune of marrying a president to improve the plight of impoverished Zimbabweans, she added.
"I am a village girl but we are the queens of this country. I came from you, and when I was chosen by Mugabe I said, 'God you have lifted me up and I want to use my position to lift others,'" she said.
"I did not choose to be here, it was God's choice. Hupenyu hwangu hahusi hwekupfeka bhutsu dzakanaka, hausi hwekupfeka hembe dzakanaka, ndewekupfeka magumboots (my life is not about showing off, I am a humble person)."
And on seeking to join the Zanu-PF politburo she explained: "I never said I wanted to join politics.
"I never had that in mind but recently people came and asked me to join, saka ini ndiri monya for hire. I told the youths that anytime ndiripo. I thank you for supporting me but mostly I would like to thank Mai Muchinguri because to offload something it is very difficult."