Grace Mugabe’s extreme makeover

2014-12-07 15:00

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Zimbabwean state television has dedicated a lot of air time lately to a hit song praising First Lady Grace Mugabe.

As 12?000 Zanu-PF delegates flocked to a temporary luxury tent city on what is now known as Robert Mugabe Square in Harare – a vast, dusty, open square near the party’s headquarters – the song was played in between live and repeated TV footage broadcast to viewers across the country.

Amai (mother) Grace has had a makeover – from a political decoration and a pillar of support for her elderly and sometimes frail-looking president husband’s side to a tough and sometimes dirty political player.

“She has been acting like a street fighter,” a Zimbabwean woman remarked on the way Grace Mugabe has been slandering ousted party vice-president Joice Mujuru.

She’s something like a Julius Malema of Zimbabwean politics, accusing the beleaguered Mujuru of everything from wearing a short skirt to being dimwitted.

Yesterday, Grace Mugabe was confirmed as leader of the party’s women’s league during a congress at which she and her husband donated tons of food.

Zanu-PF youth secretary for external affairs Mpehlabayo Malinga praised her style of leadership.

“Obviously, if the First Lady is in that position, things flow more quickly to the president,” he said. “She is a hard-working woman, truthful and straightforward, and doesn’t beat about the bush.”

He also said she had good links with industry and had made an effort to further her education. He credited her for expelling those who wanted to challenge her husband.

“I see an end to an era where people lie to the top leadership. The First Lady is in touch with the grass-roots. Politics will change for the better.” It is not her first transformation.

Benoni-born Grace Marufu was elevated from being a State House secretary to First Lady after starting an affair with Mugabe in the late 1980s while both were still married.

They were married in 1996 after having two children together and four years after the death of the president’s popular first wife Sally.

Some observers say this is when the president, formerly a Marxist with pan-Africanist leanings, started accumulating properties and wealth. He also built a grand house on a piece of land he was given a few years before in Harare’s posh Borrowdale suburb.

“Gucci Grace” or the “First Shopper”, as she was dubbed by the media, has been spotted on numerous shopping trips abroad. She once spent $120?000 (now R1.4?million) in Paris in 2003 while her country’s economy was collapsing.

Her rise began after her 49th birthday in July with a range of well-funded women’s league rallies and the awarding of a doctorate from the University of Zimbabwe, which was obtained in just three months.

This week, sitting at her husband’s side in the stuffy congress tent as temperatures hit 30°C, Grace Mugabe was praised by the ANC. Delivering the party’s message of support to Zanu-PF, the party’s treasurer-general, Zweli Mkhize, said President Jacob Zuma and the ANC leadership “wish to congratulate the First Lady Amai Mugabe for her nomination as leader of the women’s league”.

With this new post, Grace Mugabe now has a seat on the party’s powerful central committee, but her rise to the country’s top spot isn’t certain.

But she does have political ambitions and has shot down critics, saying at one rally: “They say I want to be president. Why not? Am I not Zimbabwean?”

But Zanu-PF has strict guidelines that dictate a certain length of service before someone can step into a senior leadership position.

Pro-Mujuru academic and analyst Ibbo Mandaza said Grace Mugabe’s “politics are short-lived and she is there for a particular purpose” – to get rid of her husband’s rivals.

“I don’t see her being politically functional,” he said.

He said part of her positioning was to safeguard herself and the family for when her 90-year-old husband dies.

“It is less likely that you will have a bloody end to the first family. It is not seen anywhere in contemporary Africa where there have been peaceful transitions.”

But he said the Mugabes have alienated about 90% of the party with the recent purge of the Mujuru faction, and Zanu-PF will now have to start some type of reconciliation.

For now, what is more important for Zimbabweans than Grace Mugabe’s meteoric rise is the state of the economy.

While some business-minded people said they saw opportunities, others were less certain.

“People seem to joke about who will die first, Mugabe or the economy,” a diplomat told City Press.

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