Iron fist IN A VELVET GLOVE
Zimbabwe’s first lady has made a bold move into politics, alarming those challenging her husband
She’s most famous for being labelled “Zimbabwe’s First Shopper”, but Grace Mugabe has sounded a warning to those who don’t think she’ll make it in politics – she’s learnt from her husband Robert and she’s ready for power. Grace, who married the country’s president in 1996, has been nominated as secretary of the ruling Zanu-PF’s Women’s League.
The Women’s League recommended her appointment to the position at her 49th birthday party at her orphanage in Mazowe two weeks ago.
Although the nomination is yet to be ratified, some of the party’s most senior politicians have said publicly they believe she’s a shoo-in.
Her move into politics has alarmed those challenging her husband for the leadership of Zanu-PF because they don’t dare insult her without inciting his wrath.
Grace’s rise began when she joined the president’s office in the early 1990s as a typist and secretary. The two married after Robert’s first wife, Sally, died. It was also her second marriage (she was previously married to Stanley Goreraza, a pilot with the Air Force of Zimbabwe, and has a son with him).
Both her and her husband’s remarriage raised eyebrows in conservative circles, and opposition politicians have openly questioned Grace’s morals in particular.
But she couldn’t care less. This is a woman who, in 2009, punched photojournalist Richard Jones because he’d taken pictures of her while she was on a shopping spree in Asia.
Commenting on those who have criticised her for remarrying, she said at a recent Zanu-PF rally: “It did not start today that a man marries two wives. I will not feel bad about it. Let them write whatever they want.
“South African President Jacob Zuma has many wives. I admire him because he stands for what he wants.”
Zimbabwean political analyst Dinizulu Macaphulana argues that the country’s first lady is an enigma, which means many will underestimate what she’s capable of.
“There is a multiplicity of personas in Grace. She is many entities in one, depending on what the stakes are, and what the entry and exit points of her agendas are.
“For us to pick one characteristic of her and go to town with it as the definition of Grace Mugabe, we might end up remaining with a bunch of feathers in our hands when the hawk itself has flown off,” Macaphulana said.
She may not yet hold formal political power, but she is powerful.
“My time has come to show people what I am made of,” Grace warned thousands of youngsters who gathered at her Amai Grace Mugabe Children’s Home a week ago.
“I have been with President Mugabe for many years studying his leadership. I will emulate his candid and visionary leadership.”
And his sharp tongue, it seems – she went on to fire verbal warning shots at Deputy Justice and Legal Affairs Minister Fortune Chasi, who has accused her of being involved in illegal landgrabs and attempting to expand her orphanage by occupying other people’s land.
“I might have a small fist. But when it comes to fighting, I will put stones inside to enlarge or even put on gloves to make it bigger. Do not doubt my capabilities. I don’t worry, I will rein him [Chasi] in,” she said.
I have been with President Mugabe for many years studying his leadership. I will emulate his candid and visionary leadership
EYE ON THE PRIZE Grace Mugabe, pictured here at a Zanu-PF rally in 2005, is making her own move for political power