Grace Mugabe: The ‘mad woman of Zimbabwe’ whose dreams of power could be over

Zimbabwe first Lady Grace Mugabe, 41 years younger than her husband, has become increasingly active in public life in what many say is a political grooming process to help her eventually take the top job. (Picture: AFP)
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She’s risen from a secretarial typing pool to become the most feared woman in her country, spending a fortune on fripperies while millions of her compatriots fight against poverty.

By Amy Southall

But now it seems Grace Mugabe’s inexorable rise may finally have been curtailed.

It’s not clear where Mrs Mugabe is right now. Some claim she’s fled to neighbouring Namibia, but no-one seems to know for sure.

What is certain, however, is that her husband has been detained at his home in Zimbabwe, after the military took control. Analysts have suggested the army wants to propel Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s exiled former deputy, to power, meaning the reviled leader’s 30-year regime could finally be at an end.

For Grace, that’s particularly bad news, as she had widely been tipped to take over from her husband when he finally relinquishes control.

It’s all a far cry from the station Grace occupied 25 years ago, when she was a typist for the Zimbabwean leader. Although Mugabe was still married at this point, and there were was a 41-year age gap between the pair, a relationship blossomed and they married in 1996, in what the local press dubbed the “wedding of the century.”

Grace bore her new husband three children, to go alongside her other son from a previous marriage, and clearly enjoyed her new-found power. She earned the nicknames ‘Gucci Grace’ and ‘first shopper’, spending thousands on designer gear; reports suggest she dropped £75,000 on a spree in Paris in 2002. She’s also allegedly spent £4 million on a mansion in Johannesburg as well as millions on other South African properties.

There are also some more sinister nicknames, such as ‘the mad woman’; it’s even suggested that she’s a Zimbabwean version of Lady MacBeth, a blood-thirsty devil on the shoulder of power. Her warnings about plotting within the Zanu-PF party needed little subtext, and there’ve been accusations of violence. In 2009 photographer Richard Jones claimed Grace punched her as her bodyguards pinned him to the ground, and she’s faced assault charges in South Africa over a spat with model Gabriella Engels, who claimed Grace attacked her with an extension lead. Grace, who maintains she was the victim, was spared trial by diplomatic immunity.

She’s always said she supports Mugabe wholeheartedly, even making the bizarre claim that her husband could continue to feature on voting papers “as a corpse” to allow his supporters to show their love for him. Yet her naked ambition has never been far from the surface, and she’s certainly not been shy in putting herself forward as a successor to her husband.

During a rally in 2014, Grace said “they say I want to be president. Why not? Am I not a Zimbabwean?” Reports also claim she told  the Zanu-PF women’s league, of which she is head, she is already the President and “plans and does everything” with the President.

Naturally this brought her into conflict with Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s vice-president and putative successor before he was sacked earlier this year due to allegations of disloyalty. Just last month Grace was forced to publicly deny poisoning Mnangagwa, after he fell ill during a rally in August.

Despite all the accusations, criticism and innuendo, Grace’s rise has remained unchecked, inexorable. Just a couple of weeks ago she made a headline appearance on Zimbabwean TV, looking like the smoothest of political operators as fawning acolytes cheered behind her.

But now, with the military’s long-term political plans unclear, the rise and rise of Grace Mugabe has come to a juddering halt. Millions of Zimbabweans will hope and pray it will never resume. – TalkRadio