Grace Mugabe shows us she’s not dead yet

2015-04-12 15:00

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Zimbabwe’s first lady, Grace Mugabe, was all sparkle and laughs at her husband’s side during his official state visit to South Africa this week in a mostly convincing effort to dispel recent rumours that she was gravely ill.

Her illness – officially an appendix operation, but rumoured to have been colon cancer – had her out of the public eye for more than a month. This followed two months in the Far East for medical treatment.

She made light of the grave reports this week.

“I’m dead, I’m a corpse,” the 49-year-old Benoni-born woman teasingly told reporters on Wednesday night, returning to her seat after a few dance moves with President Jacob Zuma at the state banquet in honour of her husband.

Grace rose spectacularly in the governing Zanu-PF last year, from a virtual political nobody to being appointed the party’s secretary for women’s affairs at its December conference.

With no obvious clarity – at least to outsiders – over President Robert Mugabe’s successor, there is speculation she will take over.

More realistically, though, President Mugabe’s current first deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa, is poised to succeed him, and Grace was only an instrument used by power brokers in the party to get rid of former deputy president Joice Mujuru.

While the Mugabes were away this week, Mujuru started a splinter party called The Original Zanu-PF. This group was laughed off by senior Zanu-PF member and Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa.

In a brief chat with British journalists, the 91-year-old president this week denied speculation that his wife wanted to take over the presidency.

“She doesn’t have those ambitions. No, I don’t think so. She has accepted the post of being secretary for women’s affairs and has her own charity to care for,” The Guardian reported.

Grace herself has been a bit more ambiguous about it, from saying last year nothing was stopping her from becoming president to saying “I don’t know” when asked this week.

From the couple’s official meetings with South African leaders this week, there was no indication her succession was imminent.

She beamed at her husband’s side at the Union Buildings on Wednesday morning, chatting with South African ministers.

Later, at the state banquet, she sat next to President Zuma, while Zuma’s wife Thobeka Madiba-Zuma sat next to her husband.

It appeared, though, that the conversation had dried up.

It was then that President Zuma got up and led Grace into an impromptu dance near the band, while President Mugabe was left sitting at the main table alone for a while, with a plate of fruit slices, before some guests went up to greet him.

The next day, Grace sat in the front row and laughed at the jokes he cracked during his 90-minute speech to Zimbabwean and South African businesspeople.

But on Thursday, when the Zimbabwean president visited the Hector Pieterson Museum in Soweto, Grace was not with him. A member of the Zimbabwean delegation said she had already gone home.

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