Paymaster: Nicholas Hoogstraten says leader does a good job

Zimbabwe: special report

David Pallister © 2000

Friday April 21, 2000

The old Marxist Robert Mugabe may be losing friends around the world at an alarming rate but he still has one unusual and influential capitalist supporter in Uckfield, East Sussex.

Nicholas Hoogstraten, 54, the controversial property multi-millionaire who regards ramblers as the scum of the earth and his tenants and women with even more contempt, has emerged as a long-standing financial backer of Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu-PF.

Mr Hoogstraten, who is building a £30m Renaissance-style palace with a mausoleum to preserve his remains, confirmed yesterday that he had funded Mr Mugabe and his party since the early 1960s when he acquired land in the country. He now owns nine farms covering 1m acres and a huge cattle company but, he says, only one of his nominee managers is white.

In an interview with the Guardian, Mr Hoogstraten is in no doubt where Zimbabwe's current problems stem from. Using his characteristically forceful language, he said: "This has all been stirred up by white disenfranchised trash who still think it's Rhodesia. I have some good white friends in Zimbabwe but those Rhodies, as we call them, are disgusting people. They want to ruin the country. They treat the blacks worse than blacks are treated in America. I've had no problem with indigenising my properties."

Mr Hoogstraten revealed that he continues to provide funds for Zanu-PF candidates. Over the years, he said, he must have contributed hundreds of thousands of pounds.

His money, and his friendship with Mr Mugabe, he believes, will ensure that his properties are not the subject of attacks by the war veterans.

A millionaire by the time he was 20, Mr Hoogstraten first bought some parcels of land for £40,000 in 1963. On a visit to the then Southern Rhodesia he met Tiny Rowland of Lonhro. They agreed that it made sense to back the emerging black nationalist groups, with Rowland siding with Joshua Nkomo and Mr Hoogstraten backing Mr Mugabe. Accurately he predicted that Mr Mugabe would come out on top as the leader of the biggest tribe, but like a canny businessman he did a bit of betting on both sides.

"I gave Zanu-PF five thousand here and five thousand there, a lot of money in those days. I also used to pay for Nkomo's hotel bills when he was in London but I stopped that when his side brought down a civilian airliner."

He later fell out with Rowland. In 1998 he explained that he had sold his 5% stake in Lonhro "because it's a ragbag of investments run by a bunch of incompetents".

In 10 days he flies to Harare. "It's a decent civilised ex-colonial country," he said. "It's a paradise compared with places like Nigeria.

"Mugabe has done a tremendous job keeping the country together and I'm appalled and disgusted at the way the media has treated him."

He dismisses reports of government corruption with a shrug. "It's no more than 10%. In Nigeria it's 90%. I used to own the tin mines there until I flooded them in the early 1980s."

Ever since he began his business career with a valuable stamp collection from his father, Mr Hoogstraten has courted controversy. He now owns large chunks of freehold in Brighton and homes in Cannes, Monte Carlo, Maryland and Florida. In a recent interview he described women as "chattels", and admitted to having a mistress in each of his houses. He also has an extensive collection of memorabilia from the slave trade.

Mr Hoogstraten's unconventional approach to business was demonstrated in the mid-1960s when he fell out with his partner, threw a grenade at his house, and ended up in prison. He made it into the Guinness Book of Records by having the highest disclosed UK personal tax demand in 1981: £5.3m.

More recently he was locked in combat with the Ramblers Association after he blocked a footpath across his estate. The "great unwashed", as he called them, won.