Grace pleads for legacy univer­sity on her farm

Her rise as first lady was rapid, and her fall even quicker

Sunday Times - - FRONT PAGE - By MZILIKAZI WA AFRIKA and RAY NDLOVU

Robert Mu­gabe may have fallen, but a $1bil­lion univer­sity named after the for­mer Zim­babwe pres­i­dent will still go ahead, if his wife Grace has her way.

The Sun­day Times has learnt that Grace Mu­gabe pleaded with a team ne­go­ti­at­ing her hus­band’s exit pack­age to en­sure the gov­ern­ment de­liv­ered on a $1-bil­lion (about R14-bil­lion) ap­proved deal to build a sta­teof-the-art univer­sity to be named after her hus­band.

She also asked for an un­der­tak­ing that all their prop­er­ties, in­clud­ing more than 10 farms, were pro­tected, and that all streets and struc­tures named after her hus­band re­main un­changed.

The deal also in­cluded Mu­gabe’s $10-mil­lion pen­sion pay­out in­clu­sive of all pre­vi­ous ben­e­fits that the for­mer leader was en­joy­ing dur­ing his 37-year reign as pres­i­dent.

The for­mer first lady made the pleas dur­ing two days of dis­cus­sions be­tween the Mu­gabes and a team of me­di­a­tors on Thurs­day and Fri­day.

Sources close to the ne­go­ti­a­tions said Grace, who re­port­edly did most of the talk­ing, ap­pealed to me­di­a­tors to have an agree­ment in writ­ing that the fam­ily prop­er­ties would be pro­tected at all costs and not re­pos­sessed or van­dalised.

Her fear comes after a wheat farm be­long­ing to her daugh­ter, Bona, was burnt down on Thurs­day.

On Fri­day hun­dreds of Ma­zowe vil­lagers van­dalised Arnold Farm, owned by Grace.

The vil­lagers have been in a long-stand­ing dis­pute with Grace on how she ac­quired the farm and how she would de­mol­ish their houses with­out com­pen­sa­tion when­ever she built a new struc­ture on the farm.

For­mer Zim­babwe re­serve bank gov­er­nor Gideon Gono, a Mu­gabe fam­ily friend, and Ro­man Catholic cleric Fa­ther Fidelis Mukonori led the ne­go­ti­a­tions on be­half of the cou­ple.

“I only took part in the ne­go­ti­a­tion team after be­ing in­vited by the Mu­gabes on Fri­day,” Gono said yes­ter­day, re­fus­ing to give more de­tail about Mu­gabe’s exit plan.

Higher and ter­tiary education min­is­ter Jonathan Moyo, a staunch Mu­gabe sup­porter now on the run, dropped a bomb­shell on Au­gust 9 when he re­vealed the gov­ern­ment was go­ing to build a univer­sity on Grace’s Man­zou Farm in Ma­zowe.

Sources told Sun­day Times that Grace pleaded with the me­di­a­tors to make sure the new gov­ern­ment did not re­verse the pro­posed grants for the univer­sity.

“Grace is ar­gu­ing the univer­sity is a legacy pro­ject but we all know that is an­other way of loot­ing while the peo­ple are poor,” the source said.

I n the end, it will be all about the money. How much one of Africa’s rich­est and greed­i­est women will get to keep of her du­bi­ously ac­quired gains now rests on the em­bit­tered en­e­mies who plot­ted the down­fall of Grace Mu­gabe, the for­mer first lady of Zim­babwe. As the gen­er­als be­hind Zim­babwe’s coup ne­go­ti­ated her hus­band’s en­forced departure, im­mu­nity from pros­e­cu­tion for the first cou­ple and just how much cash the pres­i­dent gets to keep to sus­tain his wife’s life­style would have been high on the agenda.

For a woman whose ar­ro­gance was as leg­endary as her tem­per, Grace Mu­gabe’s down­fall this week was ev­ery bit as hu­mil­i­at­ing as her hus­band’s, but even more com­plete.

In Harare, the cen­tral com­mit­tee of Zanu-PF, which has in­dulged ev­ery whim of the Mu­gabes, met to ex­tract their re­venge against a woman as hated in the ech­e­lons of power as she was on the streets of Zim­babwe.

For Mu­gabe, the party could muster some words of praise, re­call­ing his “many mem­o­rable achieve­ments” even as he was stripped of his lead­er­ship. For Grace there was only scorn.

Ob­se­quious­ness to oblo­quy

She stood ac­cused of “preach­ing hate, di­vi­sive­ness and as­sum­ing roles and pow­ers not del­e­gated to of­fice”. As del­e­gates clapped and hooted, the first lady was ex­pelled from the party and as head of its women’s league.

Mov­ing from ob­se­quious­ness to oblo­quy in a week, even the youth league, from where she drew her most fa­nat­i­cal sup­port, ac­cused her of be­ing the leader of a gang of crim­i­nals.

Mu­gabe may yet emerge with his rep­u­ta­tion in­tact, revered as an el­der states­man by a for­giv­ing coun­try. But his wife’s fate ap­pears to be sealed as the Imelda Mar­cos of Zim­babwe.

The in­tim­i­dat­ing aura that once sur­rounded her has gone. The for­mer typ­ist who caught the eye of Mu­gabe, 41 years her se­nior, while his first wife was dy­ing faces ig­nominy and in­famy.

While some will ques­tion whether she should bear re­spon­si­bil­ity for her hus­band’s sins as well as her own, many Zim­bab­weans will ar­gue that she de­serves her fall, one brought about by her at­tempt to ma­noeu­vre her­self into her hus­band’s shoes.

Zim­bab­weans called her Gucci Grace, mar­vel­ling in ou­trage at her os­ten­ta­tion, bul­ly­ing and lar­ceny. The bul­ly­ing man­i­fested most re­cently when, in Septem­ber, she al­legedly used an elec­tric ca­ble to beat up a South African model who had ap­par­ently be­come too fa­mil­iar with her sons.

Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa, Zim­babwe’s new pres­i­dent and her most hated ri­val, is al­most cer­tain to want to re­pos­sess Grace’s vast as­sets, par­tic­u­larly her prop­erty em­pire, much of which by right be­longs to the Zim­bab­wean state.

Few politi­cians in Zim­babwe ben­e­fited as much as she in the ac­qui­si­tion of farm­land once owned by whites, in the name of eq­ui­table land re­dis­tri­bu­tion.

She and her hus­band seized tens of thou­sands of hectares of prime farm­land, said to stretch across 20 farms. Her first tar­get was a 1 200ha farm owned by an el­derly cou­ple, John and Eva Matthews.

In Au­gust 2002, she ar­rived at the farm wield­ing a pis­tol and ac­com­pa­nied by se­nior army of­fi­cers. She had the po­lice ar­rest John, who was 78 at the time, and or­dered black farm­work­ers out of their homes.

Grace’s hunger for land could never be sated. She seized one from a black high court judge who had him­self taken a white-owned farm.

Van­ity projects floun­dered

But she was never an as­tute busi­ness­woman. She spent mil­lions of rands build­ing van­ity projects, from schools for the elite to of­fice blocks and lux­ury houses, but many soon floun­dered, and she ap­par­ently ran up a R370-mil­lion over­draft.

In the­ory the farms be­longed to the gov­ern­ment be­cause Mu­gabe changed the con­sti­tu­tion in 2005 to make all land the prop­erty of the state. But she never saw it that way, ex­cept to en­sure that her work­ers were paid by the gov­ern­ment.

Thriving farms turned to dust. A dairy she seized col­lapsed after her herd started to pro­duce milk in­fected with pus be­cause she did not know how to take ba­sic pre­cau­tions to pre­vent mas­ti­tis.

There were ac­qui­si­tions abroad too, with the pur­chase of a Jo­han­nes­burg man­sion for a re­ported R55-mil­lion and a three-storey flat in Hong Kong.

But she has spent most of the time in the gaudy blue-tiled man­sion she in­sisted her hus­band build at a cost of R185-mil­lion. Not for her the res­i­dence of Bri­tish gover­nors of yore.

She wanted some­thing big­ger, bet­ter, more suited to a woman who spent R18.5-mil­lion on a di­a­mond ring bought from a gem trader in Dubai.

Grace will likely have to em­brace a more mod­est life­style.

Zim­bab­weans will have lit­tle sym­pa­thy — bet­ter that than a prison cell, a fate likely to await the once pow­er­ful po­lit­i­cal al­lies who thought her fu­ture as pres­i­dent was as­sured.

Robert Mu­gabe may yet emerge with his rep­u­ta­tion in­tact, but his wife’s fate ap­pears to be sealed as the Imelda Mar­cos of Zim­babwe

Grace Mu­gabe in her glam­orous days; now she faces penury and ex­pul­sion.

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