Could Grace Mugabe be 'covering traces of corruption'?

2018-01-31 08:31
Grace Mugabe (Picture: AP)

Grace Mugabe (Picture: AP)

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Just when people thought former Zimbabwean first lady Grace Mugabe would lie low until the dust settled, following the ouster of former president Robert Mugabe from power, news headlines about her over the past week have left many astounded. 

Questions have been asked regarding whether Grace is up to covering traces of corruption that could be easily unearthed if the country decides to prosecute her for crimes allegedly committed while her husband was in office. 

While answering a question relating to the immunity status of Grace during an interview in Davos, Switzerland where he was attending the World Economic Forum, President Emmerson Mnangagwa made a bold statement: 

"…No. We have not given anybody any immunity. What I promised to my former president and the founding father of our nation, President [Robert] Mugabe, is that first we give him a package — a very lucrative package," Mnangagwa said.

"... So we are not saying anybody commits a crime then the former status will stop the police dealing with that issue, but I am saying that the new administration will do everything possible to make sure the family lives in peace, undisturbed. This is what I want."

Huge speculation 

So clearly, Grace does not have "any immunity". 

Just a few weeks ago, readers woke up to the news that three 'supercars' owned by the former first lady and her son from her first marriage, Russell Goreraza, had been involved in an accident in Botswana while being "sneaked" out of the country.

A Botswana online publication, Mmegi Online, posted on its Twitter account that the three vehicles "believed to be belonging to Grace Mugabe" had had a "freak accident" on the A1 road near the town of Artesia. It said the cars - a Porsche, a Rolls Royce and a Range Rover - were badly damaged but the drivers were not hurt.

There were few other details. A photo posted by the paper to Twitter showed the back of a car with the number plate 'RG SVA' on a grassy track at night. Two people are leaning on the vehicle.

To accompany that, there had already been huge speculation on Zimbabwean social media after an affidavit showing Grace Mugabe of the "Grace Mugabe Children's Home" had authorised her son Russell Goreraza to drive one of the cars, the Range Rover, out.

It was highly believed during that time that the former first lady and her son might have been trying to avoid having the cars seized when an amnesty expires for the return of all money illegally spirited from Zimbabwe during Mugabe's long rule.

President Mnangagwa has been talking tough on corruption as he seeks to win international confidence.

Mnangagwa announced in December a 90 day amnesty for the return of funds siphoned out of the country by individuals and corporations during ex-president Robert Mugabe's reign. 

He made it clear that those who returned their illegally earned monies would be pardoned unconditionally. The amnesty period was set to run from December 1.

The state-owned Chronicle newspaper quoted sources as saying that customs officials suspected that Grace's son was using the top of the range vehicles to smuggle cash and other valuables out of the country.

Grace had been widely criticised for her extravagance and lavish shopping sprees as the Zimbabwean economy collapsed under Mugabe's authoritarian rule.

So the vehicles were later released following several hours of searches and when Goreraza produced documents proving that Grace had granted him permission to drive her Rolls Royce to Botswana and South Africa.

While people were still talking about Grace's "supercars", there in bold letters was another shocking headline: "Zimbabwe university posts Grace Mugabe's suspect PhD thesis".

What? The university is only releasing the thesis now, four years after Grace graduated with a PhD at the country’s leading university? Really? That's how surprised many were when the news broke.

Grace was capped by her husband in August 2014 when he was still chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe. She appeared in the red academic gown and black cap for the doctorate of philosophy degree beside the then vice president, Joice Mujuru, who also received a doctorate.

At the time Grace was reported to have enrolled for the doctorate just three months before it was awarded. Prominent graduates of the university, which has a distinguished track record, were outraged. The late Zimbabwean author, Chenjerai Hove at the time wrote to the university’s vice chancellor, Levi Nyagura saying the university’s decision to give a doctorate to Grace had reduced its degrees to "a laughing stock".

Four years after Grace obtained the PhD, the university decided to publish the thesis. 

But university students would have none of that: "We saw the thesis on the website… and the question is why it took four years to publish," Ashley Munetsi, secretary general of the Zimbabwe National Students' Union was quoted in the media as saying.

"This is an obvious cover-up and we are not going to rest until the matter is settled. We are calling on the vice-chancellor to account for the degree," said Munetsi.

Vast tracks of land

"If it's found out that the degree was fraudulently awarded, it should be revoked to protect the integrity of the university."

The 226-page doctoral thesis, titled "The Changing Social Structure and Functions of the Family", was apparently dedicated to "the President of Zimbabwe Comrade Robert Gabriel Mugabe because of his dedication and commitment to the well-being of Zimbabweans".  

An yet these are not the only stories that have raised questions about the former first lady. 

She "owns vast tracks of land in Mazowe, 35km north-east of Harare where she set up an orphanage‚ private school and dairy farm where her Alfa and Omega ice cream and milk are produced." That's according to Sunday World.

NewsDay reported recently that she was "embroiled in a nasty fight over land in Borrowdale, which reportedly belongs to a Harare private school owned by the Reformed Church in Zimbabwe (RCZ)", which she "reportedly grabbed when her husband was still in power".

She was also embroiled in a legal battle early in 2017 with a Lebanese businessman over a diamond ring worth $1.3 million which she bought from him. Fearing for his life‚ Jamal Joseph Hamed fled Zimbabwe and five of his houses were put under police guard by Grace Mugabe.

So the list of cases that link Grace goes on and on.

Betha Madhomu is editor of News24 Africa.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    robert mugabe  |  grace mugabe  |  morgan tsvangirai  |  zimbabwe  |  southern africa

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