Iron fist IN A VEL­VET GLOVE

Zim­babwe’s first lady has made a bold move into pol­i­tics, alarm­ing those chal­leng­ing her hus­band

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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

GRACE MU­GABE

PHOTO: THEMBA MASEKO

EYE ON THE PRIZE Grace Mu­gabe, pic­tured here at a Zanu-PF rally in 2005, is mak­ing her own move for po­lit­i­cal power

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