When Helen left Zimbabwe and traveled across the world to a new life in Hong Kong, the last person she would have chosen to follow her was the man she blamed unequivocally for the ruin of her homeland: Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.
Her peace of mind was shattered when a report surfaced earlier this month that the 85-year-old president, whose 30-year stranglehold on power may be loosening, has bought a home in the city worth US$5 million.
“It has all come as a huge shock,” said the businesswoman, who like other Zimbabwean expatriates living in Hong Kong asked for her identity to be disguised for fear of recriminations against family members back home.
“People here simply don’t appreciate the extent of the suffering this man has caused,” she said.
News of the reported purchase came exactly a month after Mugabe’s wife Grace was involved in an alleged assault on a photographer working for Britain’s Sunday Times who took pictures of her shopping, and weeks after it emerged that his daughter Bona was at university in Hong Kong.
Two weeks ago, two photographers working for the same paper were allegedly assaulted by two men and a woman understood to be bodyguards outside the house the Mugabes have reportedly bought.
“As soon as I saw the story about Grace Mugabe being involved in the assault case, I knew the rest of the family would follow because there aren’t many places in the world left for them to go. Most other countries have banned them,” Helen said.
Now Helen and others in a 500-strong community of white Zimbabweans living in Hong Kong, some of whom fled the country because of Mugabe’s regime, fear that they will soon find themselves living in uncomfortable proximity to a man they view as the world’s least-desirable neighbor.
For Helen, the arrival of the Mugabes is a dose of poison for a city she regards as her home.
“The Hong Kong government should send these people away now. It should follow the examples of other Western governments and refuse to let members of the Mugabe regime in,” she said.
Another Zimbabwean living in Hong Kong asked: “What steps have the Hong Kong monetary authorities and the transferring bank taken to ascertain the source of the funds for the house purchase?”
“This could have very serious implications for both Hong Kong and the individual bank concerned — remember the issues with the Macau banks and North Korea. With the current financial crisis, the last thing Hong Kong needs is to be identified as a money-laundering center,” the Zimbabwean said.
White Zimbabweans are vociferous critics of Mugabe, having been among those who lost most under his regime. But there is no reason to think ordinary Hong Kongers will react with as anywhere near as much concern to the idea of the Mugabe family moving to the city.
If anything, the Mugabes have reason to be heartened by the reception they have received so far. While protests demanding Bona Mugabe’s return have raged in Zimbabwe, there have been no protests by students in Hong Kong, no discernible outcry from pro-democracy legislators and no obvious disquiet among residents at the prospect of having the Mugabe family for neighbors.
The Hong Kong government has shown no inclination to get involved and a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman in Beijing, when asked about the reported house purchase, said: “Hong Kong is a free port and even Falun Gong practitioners can buy property there, am I right?”