Missing Sally Mugabe: Fed-up Zimbabweans look back to late first lady with longing

2016-11-09 11:21
Grace Mugabe. File: AFP

Grace Mugabe. File: AFP

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Harare - It's been called the "Sally Mugabe obsession".

Each time President Robert Mugabe's wife Grace appears in public, the rumbling on social media gets louder.

Mugabe critics pick on 51-year-old Grace's manner, her gestures and her clothes, comparing her unfavourably with Mugabe's first wife Sally, who died in 1992.

There are tweeted demands to "retweet for Sally Mugabe, like for Grace" and other similar social media popularity contests - and the late Sally just about always wins.

Does Grace mind?

What started this obsession with Mugabe's first wife?

It's not a new thing: outspoken teachers' union chief Raymond Majongwe this month reminded Zimbabweans he'd even released a song about Sally back in 2002. But the obsession really picked up when Grace Mugabe entered politics in a big way in 2014 (remember that PhD, obtained in record time?). Until then Grace had confined herself to charity work, her orphanage and shopping big-time.

Grace getting herself elected as head of the ruling party women's league really got Mugabe critics worried: some believe she is aiming for the presidency. That seems to have reignited the fascination with Sally Mugabe, who Mugabe married in Ghana in 1961 and with whom he had a son who died from malaria aged just 3. Mugabe had an affair with Grace while Sally was sick with a kidney ailment. 

Don't forget that Sally herself was head of the Zanu-PF women's league. But partly because she and Mugabe were much closer in age (just seven years between them), there's a perception she was more "motherly" - and more dignified than the flashy Grace.

Examples of recent Grace/Sally comparisons?

There's that memorable snap from Mugabe's 92nd birthday party in Masvingo in February, when Grace is raising her hand to stop the president speaking. More recently, when sculptor Dominic Benhura unveiled his controversial statue of Mugabe a lot of criticism was directed at the outfit Grace Mugabe was wearing, a floral, layered affair. Forget the statue, the howl went up: What is Amai Mugabe wearing? "Don't we all miss Sally Mugabe," tweeted Zimbabwean publisher Trevor Ncube - with a profusion of broken pink hearts.

Did Mugabe really change when he married Grace?

That is a matter for debate. Online watchdog @ZimMediaReview has suggested that "Mugabe's most brutal excesses were committed when Sally was by his side", a reference to the Gukurahundi killings of the 1980s in Matabeleland.

But there is a perception that Grace - and the G40 faction of the ruling party - may be the ones encouraging Mugabe to stay on in power, despite the economic disaster Zimbabwe is facing and despite Mugabe's visibly failing health. In September Morgan Tsvangirai claimed that Grace had actually taken over from Mugabe in a "palace coup".

Does Grace ever publicly mention Sally?

Mugabe mentioned his first wife (rather excruciatingly) in an interview with Dali Tambo in 2013. He said that he needed someone to give his mother grandchildren when Sally was ill. Grace, in the presidential typing pool at the time, "was one of the nearest and she was a divorcee and so it was," he said. No wonder Grace is a bit touchy on the Sally subject.

The privately-owned Standard reported earlier this year that Grace was "angry" that people compared her to Sally. "Mugabe took a second wife nicely, I got married well," Grace is said to have told rally-goers in Chiweshe in March. But sometimes the criticism comes from the most unexpected corners: a policeman went on trial last week for calling Grace a "prostitute", the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights reported.

Grace or Sally? Here's what they say:

Trends Zimbabwe ™ ‏@TrendsZim Jul 28

RT for First Lady Sally Mugabe Like for First Lady Grace Mugabe #TrendsZimPoll#ThisFlag

The One Daks @rhoodiedakamela 

@Mavhure @TrevorNcube so many things wrong about that statue. And what is Amai Mugabe wearing?

2 replies 4 retweets 4 likes

Trevor Ncube ‏@TrevorNcube Sep 10 

Trevor Ncube Retweeted The One Daks

As fake as Grace Mugabe. Don't we all miss Sally Mugabe ??????????

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

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