Just how powerful is Grace Mugabe?

Cape Town – So Grace Mugabe, who is  accused of assault in South Africa, is back home in Zimbabwe after she was granted diplomatic immunity by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) over the weekend.

Grace was in the media the whole of last week after she allegedly assaulted a South African model, Gabriella Engels, using an extension cord while her bodyguards looked on. This was after she allegedly found Gabriella with one of her sons, Bellarmine Chatunga at a hotel in the leafy suburb of Sandton.

Grace was granted diplomatic immunity despite calls by a South African legal group, Afriforum, and protesters for her not to be allowed to leave the country.

Of course the development came as a surprise, as many South Africans and indeed some in Zimbabwe had kept their fingers crossed, hoping she was going to face justice.

Grace’s sons, Robert Jnr and Bellarmine Chatunga, who are learning in South Africa are known for notoriety and lavish lifestyles. The duo was recently kicked out of an apartment block in the leafy Sandton after they reportedly engaged in “unacceptable behaviour” that left a security officer at the block with a broken leg and arm, prompting Grace to fly to South Africa to organise alternative accommodation for them.

Mugabe sons

Robert Jnr and Bellarmine Chatunga (AP)

‘Violent, crude, uncouth’

In the latest case, Grace had allegedly used her medical trip to South Africa to also see her children at the Capitol 20 West hotel in Sandton when this incident happened. Her husband had told a rally in Gwanda, about 500km south-west of the capital Harare, that she had gone to South Africa for a doctor’s review after her leg was injured in a freak accident at the Harare International Airport.

Indeed reports on Sunday morning that Grace had arrived in Zimbabwe alongside her husband from a SADC summit in Pretoria was received with anger by Zimbabwe’s main opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which described Dirco’s decision as “regrettable”.

“Grace Mugabe is a violent, crude, uncouth and disgraceful character. It is very unfortunate that South Africa decided to grant her diplomatic immunity,” the MDC’s spokesperson Obert Gutu was quoted as saying, soon after the news of Grace’s arrival in Harare.

What surprised many, however, was the “silent stance” that the Zimbabwean media, in particular the state-owned newspaper (The Herald and the Chronicle), and the state broadcaster ZBC took, as Grace’s story continued to unfold last week.

Picture: AFP

Shopping expeditions 

One of the reasons given by some journalists was that they were waiting for “an official confirmation”. But again, that confirmation was hard to come by, as the authorities chose to remain mum on the matter.

This raised questions regarding Grace’s position in Zimbabwe.

Who exactly is Grace Mugabe?

Of course she is President Robert Mugabe’s wife after she got married to the nonagenarian in 1996.

She was born in 1965 in Benoni, South Africa where her family is said to have lived until 1970, according to Wikipedia. She was previously married to to Stanely Goreraza, an air force pilot, who is defence attaché at the Zimbabwe embassy in China with whom she had a son, Russell Goreraza, born 1984.

Reports indicate that she was plucked by Mugabe from his secretarial pool decades ago and she bore him children – Bona (the only daughter) and the two sons who are the reason why she was in the news last week.

Bona Mugabe

Bona Mugabe Chikore (AFP)

Mugabe married Grace following the death of his first wife Sally.

When she first came into the limelight, she was seen by critics as someone, who was so much into shopping expeditions, but of late she has developed a lot of interest in politics.

Grace’s PHD

In late 2014, Grace was fiercely critical of the then vice president Joice Mujuru, whom she accused of plotting against her husband. Her accusations ultimately resulted in Mujuru being sacked from both the ruling Zanu-PF party and government. Mujuru is now an opposition leader of the National People’s Party (NPP).

Meanwhile, her political prominence increased, as she was nominated to head the Zanu-PF Women’s League on December 06, 2014. With this position, she automatically became a member of Zanu-PF’s decision making-body, the politburo.

Frank Chikowore

Joice Mujuru (Picture by Frank Chikowore, News24)

Soon after being shoe-horned into the top ranks of Zimbabwe’s ruling party, Mugabe’s wife obtained a doctorate under questionable circumstances. She gained a PhD in orphanages from the University of Zimbabwe. This was seen by many as a sign that she was aiming for high office.

In a country where the path to power is paved with academic letters, analysts said the timing of the first lady’s surprise qualification was no coincidence.

Generation 40

Armed with a PhD, a seat in the Zanu-PF politburo and her 93-year-old husband’s ear at home, Grace has consequently now become a political force, as the battle hots up to succeed the only leader Zimbabwe has known since independence in 1980.

Some have, over the years, even speculated that Africa’s oldest leader is grooming his 52-year-old wife to take over.

Last month, Grace publicly challenged her husband to name a successor, wading into a subject that the president has regarded as taboo. This was despite the fact that she had previously said her husband could rule from the grave. “If God decides to take him, then we would rather field him as a corpse” in the 2018 election, she said early this year.

Of late, Grace has been linked to a faction within the ruling Zanu-PF, which is comprised of young Turks known as Generation 40 (G40).

The G40 is reportedly bent on blocking the country’s vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa from ascending into presidency when Mugabe eventually leaves office. It is pushing for Grace to succeed her nonagenarian husband.

Public humiliation 

Mnangagwa himself reportedly offered to resign recently over what he called repeated “public humiliation” by Grace.

Emmerson Mnangagwa
Emmerson Mnangagwa (AFP)

Reports indicated that Mnangagwa handed in his resignation letter to Mugabe, but the nonagenarian rejected it saying the deputy president was “jumping the gun”.

Unnamed sources claimed that Grace’s recent public outburst against Mnangagwa was one of the reasons that he wanted to resign.

The sources said that Mnangagwa believed there was a plot against him by the system to kick him out.

The First Lady had previously told Zimbabwe’s vice presidents – Mnangangwa and Phelekezela Mphoko – at a campaign rally in Chinhoyi that they were serving at her husband’s will.

Grace warned the two deputies that they risked losing their jobs if they did not perform to the expectations of her husband.

Apart from her involvement in politics, Grace has been amassing herself with wealth. She recently moved to expand her Mazowe “empire” by grabbing the iconic state-owned Mazowe Dam. This affected a number of families who were evicted from their homes to pave way for her. The families had “earned a living through fishing and other activities around there”.

The First Lady’s growing empire already included a huge double-storey mansion, a dairy farm, an orphanage and a school.

She was also planning on building a university.

Reports indicated that the Mugabes owned at least fourteen farms that were gained through the country’s chaotic land reform programme introduced in the early 2000s. – News24