Grace pleads for legacy university on her farm
Her rise as first lady was rapid, and her fall even quicker
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.