Is #GraceMugabe running Zimbabwe?

Africa is not having a good week. We seem to be dealing with a lot lately; a little more than usual. Or maybe the world is paying more attention to break from the comic relief provided by the orange one in the White House.
By Adrian Ephraim
The Tour de Trump has grabbed headlines, much like how its namesake grabs genitals. We’re saturated, we’re horrified and in the end we’re desensitised, but we can’t look away.
Meanwhile, Africans die in terrorist attacks in Burkina Faso and Mali, and post-election violence in Kenya. And if that wasn’t enough, try the floods in Sierra Leone to wash that down with.
Worse still, be grateful you’re not on the wrong side of a Grace Mugabe smackdown. The obvious gender violence issues aside for a second, how do we trust a leader who acts in such an irrational way?
There is another side to this Mugabe’s behaviour. That of a mother trying to protect and contain delinquent offspring who are acting their age. Badly behaved young men are common to every society. They are a sad part of life, and money often determines the level of debauchery allowed.
Private parties, nightclubs and limitless alcohol and credit cards are a twenty-something’s dream. This is nothing unusual. What we have done is apply and compared what we know about ordinary, hungry Zimbabweans to the guilt-free, cash-flush lifestyles of Robert Jnr and Bellarmine Chatunga Mugabe. Funny how that is mostly applied to African countries.
Grace Mugabe may have been acting like a strong mother. We know them. They are our mothers. The ones who would dish out punishment with a wooden spoon or a slipper, or say an electrical cord. It’s not right, and it should never be condoned. We know better now, but it happened.
But Mugabe has a track record of using the language of violence to protect herself and her family, and perhaps unfairly, given how violent many African leaders have proven to be, the media scrutiny on her transgressions has been dogged.
In 2009 she assaulted a photographer in Hong Kong. More recently, she was detained briefly after trying to destroy the equipment of two journalists in Hong Kong.
In May this year, police, acting on Grace Mugabe’s orders, harassed, assaulted and evicted about 200 families living on a farm owned by her family.
It begs the question: Is Grace Mugabe running Zimbabwe? For some it is obvious. She speaks in public more often, and criticises errant government officials quite harshly. She appears untouchable in a country where there is so much need for accountability and legitimacy.
It is said that no one does anything, not even Robert, without informing Grace.
She has taken on the hallowed war veterans of Zimbabwe, saying Robert has every right to choose his successor. Grace is firmly entrenched in Zimbabwe’s succession battle. Cabinet ministers kneel before her.
In November last year, Grace claimed she is already in charge because she “plans and does everything for Robert”. It’s a startling declaration, given that Zimbabwe supposedly is a democracy. So powerful is Grace that she can even cut short her husband’s speeches, in real time.
In 2015, Grace publicly claimed vice-presidents Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko took orders from her.
Not that she is getting a free ride back home in Zimbabwe. T-shirts doing the rounds say: “Control your children first. Grace a failed mum; her sons unruly rogues; failing only with two boys, can’t mother 14 million”. These words must hurt Grace, who has four children. Three with Robert and one from a previous marriage.
What does it all matter? Why should we demonise Grace now, when others before her have nothing to boast about?
By leaving South Africa knowing that charges were laid against her, Grace Mugabe is trying to evade South Africa’s justice system. It’s a cowardly act, and an error of judgement. Further still, she stormed a hotel in an upmarket Johannesburg residential area, and proceeded to assault a young woman, with a make-shift weapon and in full view of her security team. Her behaviour is irrational and erratic and must be questioned, particularly for someone who is said to be the most powerful person in Zimbabwe, and quite possibly the de facto president.
* Ephraim is the editor of African Independent