'Sally Mugabe Day? I'd support that' - some Zimbabweans say

2016-01-28 14:26

Harare - President Robert Mugabe lost his first wife Sally 24 years ago this week.

It was an anniversary that passed nearly without mention until Zimbabwean lawyer and academic Alex Magaisa flagged it on Twitter. 

There was no mention of Sally in Zimbabwe's official press. Grace Mugabe - the shoe-loving, shop-loving, Chinese-speaking, Women's League-leading first lady has long eclipsed her husband's first love, at least in official circles. 

Once reminded of Sally's death, Zimbabweans began to reminisce.

"If someone called for a Sally Mugabe Day I'd definitely sign THAT petition," said prominent Zimbabwe blogger @joeblackzw in a reference to a call doing the rounds for the president's February 21 birthday to be declared a national holiday.

With Zimbabwe's economy on its knees again, not everyone was happy with that suggestion.

"Would be good to have a day for her tho'," chimed in @JnrMwenye.

"She was well loved," said former Mail & Guardian Africa editor Teldah Mawarire. 

Sarah Francesca Hayfron Mugabe, who was head of the ruling party's women's league, died of kidney disease on January 27, 1992 in Harare's Parirenyatwa Hospital - the same institution now reported to have a critical shortages of drugs. 

She knew Grace Mugabe, who was in her 20s, was already in a relationship with her husband of 31 years. Mugabe admitted, somewhat clumsily, during a speech to an international business conference in 2014, to telling her on her hospital bed.

“I did tell [Sally] and she just kept quiet and said fine, but she did ask, ‘Do you still love me?’ I said yes. And she said, ‘Oh, fine’,” Mugabe said.

Sally might have said it was okay, but her family in Ghana was less pleased, apparently.

Grace was chased from the family homestead in Sekondi, Ghana in 2007 when she tried to accompany her husband. Mugabe had to proceed alone to his former mother-in-law's home while Grace waited in the car, reports at the time said.

Grace was touchy when it came to the subject of Mugabe's first wife, likely aware of Sally's enduring popularity.

She already had daughter Bona by the time Sally died, while Robert Junior was on the way. 

She told visitors to her orphanage in Mazowe two years ago that she was "customarily married" to Mugabe while Sally was still alive. 

"I will not feel bad about it," the private Newsday quoted her as saying. 

Some seem to think things would things have been different for Mugabe and Zimbabwe if Sally had not died.

@takuchengeta wrote: "That loss [Sally's death] wasn't Mugabe's alone. Her death was a tragedy to all [of] us which may help explain why we're in this mess today."

Sally however also had a reputation for enthusiastically shopping, and as one Zimbabwean pointed out, the "Mat stuff", meaning the Gukurahundi clampdown that left up to 20 000 dead, happened under Sally's watch in the early to mid-1980s.





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