The power of Grace

First lady’s vi­o­lent, ir­ra­tional and er­ratic be­hav­iour must be ques­tioned

African Independent - - OPINION -

AFRICA is not hav­ing a good week. We seem to be deal­ing with a lot lately; a lit­tle more than usual. Or maybe the world is pay­ing more at­ten­tion to break from the comic re­lief pro­vided by the or­ange one in the White House. The Tour de Trump has grabbed head­lines, much like how its name­sake grabs gen­i­tals. We’re sat­u­rated, we’re hor­ri­fied and in the end we’re de­sen­si­tised, but we can’t look away.

Mean­while, Africans die in ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Burk­ina Faso and Mali, and post­elec­tion vi­o­lence in Kenya. And if that wasn’t enough, try the floods in Sierra Leone to wash that down with.

Worse still, be grate­ful you’re not on the wrong side of a Grace Mu­gabe smack­down. The ob­vi­ous gen­der vi­o­lence is­sues aside for a se­cond, how do we trust a leader who acts in such an ir­ra­tional way?

There is an­other side to this Mu­gabe’s be­hav­iour. That of a mother try­ing to pro­tect and con­tain delin­quent off­spring who are act­ing their age. Badly be­haved young men are com­mon to ev­ery so­ci­ety. They are a sad part of life, and money of­ten de­ter­mines the level of de­bauch­ery al­lowed.

Pri­vate par­ties, night­clubs and lim­it­less al­co­hol and credit cards are a twen­tysome­thing’s dream. This is noth­ing un­usual. What we have done is ap­ply and com­pared what we know about or­di­nary, hun­gry Zim­bab­weans to the guilt-free, cash-flush life­styles of Robert Jnr and Bel­larmine Chatunga Mu­gabe. Funny how that is mostly ap­plied to African coun­tries.

Grace Mu­gabe may have been act­ing like a strong mother. We know them. They are our moth­ers. The ones who would dish out pun­ish­ment with a wooden spoon or a slip­per, or say an elec­tri­cal cord. It’s not right, and it should never be con­doned. We know bet­ter now, but it hap­pened.

But Mu­gabe has a track record of us­ing the lan­guage of vi­o­lence to pro­tect her­self and her fam­ily, and per­haps un­fairly, given how vi­o­lent many African lead­ers have proven to be, the me­dia scru­tiny on her trans­gres­sions has been dogged.

In 2009 she as­saulted a pho­tog­ra­pher in Hong Kong. More re­cently, she was detained briefly af­ter try­ing to de­stroy the equip­ment of two jour­nal­ists in Hong Kong.

In May this year, po­lice, act­ing on Grace Mu­gabe’s orders, ha­rassed, as­saulted and evicted about 200 fam­i­lies liv­ing on a farm owned by her fam­ily.

It begs the ques­tion: Is Grace Mu­gabe run­ning Zim­babwe? For some it is ob­vi­ous. She speaks in pub­lic more of­ten, and crit­i­cises er­rant gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials quite harshly. She ap­pears un­touch­able in a coun­try where there is so much need for ac­count­abil­ity and le­git­i­macy.

It is said that no one does any­thing, not even Robert, with­out in­form­ing Grace.

She has taken on the hal­lowed war vet­er­ans of Zim­babwe, say­ing Robert has ev­ery right to choose his suc­ces­sor. Grace is firmly en­trenched in Zim­babwe’s suc­ces­sion bat­tle. Cab­i­net min­is­ters kneel be­fore her.

In Novem­ber last year, Grace claimed she is al­ready in charge be­cause she “plans and does ev­ery­thing for Robert”. It’s a star­tling dec­la­ra­tion, given that Zim­babwe sup­pos­edly is a democ­racy. So pow­er­ful is Grace that she can even cut short her hus­band’s speeches, in real time.

In 2015, Grace pub­licly claimed vi­cepres­i­dents Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko took orders from her.

Not that she is get­ting a free ride back home in Zim­babwe. T-shirts do­ing the rounds say: “Con­trol your chil­dren first. Grace a failed mum; her sons un­ruly rogues; fail­ing only with two boys, can’t mother 14 mil­lion”. These words must hurt Grace, who has four chil­dren. Three with Robert and one from a pre­vi­ous mar­riage.

What does it all mat­ter? Why should we de­monise Grace now, when oth­ers be­fore her have noth­ing to boast about?

By leav­ing South Africa know­ing that charges were laid against her, Grace Mu­gabe is try­ing to evade South Africa’s jus­tice sys­tem. It’s a cow­ardly act, and an er­ror of judge­ment. Fur­ther still, she stormed a ho­tel in an up­mar­ket Jo­han­nes­burg res­i­den­tial area, and pro­ceeded to assault a young woman, with a make-shift weapon and in full view of her se­cu­rity team. Her be­hav­iour is ir­ra­tional and er­ratic and must be ques­tioned, par­tic­u­larly for some­one who is said to be the most pow­er­ful per­son in Zim­babwe, and quite pos­si­bly the de facto pres­i­dent.

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