The problem with Lady Grace

2017-08-20 06:02
Grace Mugabe

Grace Mugabe

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“Let them eat cake,” Queen Marie Antoinette reportedly said in response to panicked reports that the economy was in such a shambles that there was not even any bread for her people to eat ahead of the French Revolution in 1789.

“Let them eat dust” appears to be Zimbabwean First Lady Grace Mugabe’s motto.

She seems adept at raising dusty clouds of controversy in her wake, be it during a hospital visit in Singapore or a shopping spree in Paris.

They might be from different countries and have lived centuries apart, but, for reasons that will soon be apparent, one finds it hard not to draw parallels between Marie Antoinette, who effectively ruled France during the reign of her husband Louis XVI, and Grace Mugabe, who is running Zimbabwe during the supposed tenure of her husband.

Marie Antoinette lived a lavish life, amassing expensive jewellery and thousands of shoes. In the process, she made such a large dent in the national fiscus that she came to be known as Madame Déficit.

Grace Mugabe, who married Robert Mugabe in 1996, is also notorious for her profligacy at the expense of the Zimbabwean masses.

In 2003, while her country’s economy plunged into the doldrums, Lady Grace flew to Marie Antoinette’s Paris, where she spent £75 000 (R1.2m) during a shopping spree.
At about the same time, she withdrew more than £5m from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.

In 2007, she finished building a palace for the family, which cost $26m (R343m).

This was the second palace built during her tenure.


The first one, commonly called Gracelands, became controversial because of its extravagance and was later sold to Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, who had invested a lot of money in Zimbabwe.

In December 2010, WikiLeaks revealed that high-ranking Zimbabwean government officials and well-connected elites, including Lady Grace, were generating millions of dollars in personal income by hiring teams of diggers to extract diamonds from the Chiadzwa mine in eastern Zimbabwe by hand.

The Mugabes, thanks to Lady Grace’s visionary planning, also own property in Malaysia, Hong Kong and Dubai.

They recently acquired a R45m property in the mink and manure enclave of Sandhurst, northern Johannesburg.

At 9 249m², the estate is nearly double the size of most other properties in the area, which is home to some of South Africa’s richest families, as well as tycoons from oil-rich parts of Africa such as Angola and Nigeria.

Lady Grace seems to have been successful in inculcating her discerning tastes in her offspring.

Until recently, her sons, Robert Jr (24) and Chatunga (20), were staying at an apartment that cost them R70 000 a month.

They frequent clubs where they are known to order imported drinks, including Armand de Brignac, which retails for R6 500 a bottle.

It is because of these two that Lady Grace is in the news this week.

“I will beat you!”

The first lady’s alleged attack on model Gabriella Engels with such an unsophisticated weapon – an extension cord – is the fifth reported instance of Lady Grace losing her grace.

When she and her husband visited Garden City Hospital in Johannesburg in January 2006 for a medical check-up, they were greeted by protesters who were angry that the couple were getting top-drawer medical care after destroying the public healthcare system in their country.

When journalist Mandy Wiener tried to get comment from the Mugabes, Lady Grace wagged a finger at her and said: “I will beat you!”

In January 2009, British photographer Richard Jones claimed Lady Grace flew into a rage when she saw him outside the five-star Kowloon Shangri-la Hotel in Hong Kong, where she was staying.

She allegedly ordered her bodyguards to attack Jones, and then joined in the assault.

Jones reportedly suffered numerous bruises, cuts and abrasions to his head and face, caused by Mugabe’s diamond rings.

Security officers intervened to stop the assault. Mugabe got away with it, thanks to her diplomatic immunity.

In March, on orders from her majesty Lady Grace, Zimbabwean riot police knocked down homes on farms she had decided to take over.

Human Rights Watch said villagers who tried to stop the destruction of their homes were beaten.

Just four months later, she was detained briefly in Singapore after becoming involved in yet another altercation with journalists.

She had apparently become enraged after encountering a group of them outside Gleneagles Hospital, where her husband was being treated for an undisclosed medical condition.

She charged at them, destroying some of their equipment and throwing one reporter’s cellphone into a pond.

Again, she was saved by diplomatic immunity.

But it’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to Lady Grace.

In an attempt to emphasise the importance of education to young Zimbabweans, she registered for a doctoral degree in sociology in September 2014 at the University of Zimbabwe.

Two months later, she was granted the degree, causing a backlash in the Zimbabwean academic community, with some pointing out that this could harm the university’s reputation.

But Lady Grace had made her point: education is important, and the sooner you acquire that degree, the better.

Clearly, Lady Grace attracts controversy as a dog attracts fleas. Like a dog, she will not hesitate to figuratively scratch herself in public – to hell with what people think.

But, every now and then, Lady Grace does succumb to the stirrings of her conscience.

Who can forget how, in November 2015, she visited a village outside Harare and donated hundreds of pairs of shoes to schoolchildren?

Except the children, whose average age was five, could not find much use for the size 13 shoes.

One day, by the grace of God, Lady Grace will probably find the redemption that has so far proved elusive.

Khumalo is a fellow at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study

Read more on:    grace mugabe  |  gabriella engels

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