HATE her or like her, Grace Mugabe stormed the political scene like a bat from the blue, triggering a wave of events which have culminated in serious infighting, never before seen in the fractious Zanu PF since Independence in 1980.
She has become the leading pot stirrer and fire stoker in Zanu PF, but it remains to be seen whether the fires she has lit will not eventually consume her.
Grace has made it her mission to derail Vice-President Joice Mujuru’s presidential ambitions, a major gamble considering Mujuru’s long history with Zanu PF and the liberation struggle, in which she is generally regarded as one of the country’s distinguished female fighters.
She also has a long track record in government, being one of three persons alongside Emmerson Mnangagwa and Sydney Sekeramayi to have served in successive governments since Independence.
And yet Mujuru seems to have been rattled by Grace’s charge and appears not to be having the stomach or a systematic way of fighting back. Although she has been measured in her reaction, her allies, among them war veterans chairman Jabulani Sibanda and party spokesman Rugare Gumbo, have been hitting back.
Grace has, however, managed to ruffle Mujuru’s feathers and given a lifeline to the Mnangagwa faction, which before her entry, seemed to have no answer to stopping their rival who had consolidated power after seizing control of key party structures.
Grace has been hogging the limelight since embarking on countrywide rallies which became a platform for unprecedented vicious attacks on Mujuru, calling on her to step down or risk being fired by her husband.
But who is Grace?
Grace has been courting controversy ever since her equally controversial marriage to Mugabe in 1996. She married Mugabe while his first wife Sally was bed-ridden and fighting a kidney ailment which eventually took her life.
Born in Benoni in Johannesburg, South Africa, on July 23 1965, she celebrated her 49th birthday with a sudden but robust entry into mainstream politics as incoming boss of the ruling Zanu PF’s Women’s League, reportedly at the invitation of incumbent Oppah Muchinguri.
Having entered the public arena against the background of negative publicity generated by reports she was involved in an illicit affair with Mugabe while his much-loved wife Sally was terminally ill, Grace soon displayed some positive attributes which went some way in placating a sceptical public.
Among these was her stated commitment to stay out of politics, which was considered a wise decision considering that meddling in politics was so often the downfall of many a young wife in world history as shown by the Biblical Jezebel through to the infamous Marie Antoinette of France, Imelda Marcos of the Philippines and Cecelia Kadzamira in Kamuzu Banda’s Malawi.
Grace also demonstrated a desire for self-improvement by enrolling to study for an English degree with the University of London over a decade ago, and to her credit she did not allow the humiliation of her poor results that were splashed in the media to get the better of her as she subsequently enrolled at the People’s University of China to study Mandarin.
Only a month ago, she was awarded a doctorate by the University of Zimbabwe although it later transpired it was unprocedural, fraudulent and thus a nullity.
Grace has also shown a steely determination in building a business empire, Gushungo Holdings, which specialises in among other products a wide range of dairy products like milk, yoghurt and ice cream sold under the trade name Alpha and Omega. Gushungo is Mugabe’s clan name.
She has since shown her motherly and humanitarian side by building a state-of-the-art orphanage for children in Mazowe which ironically is in her nemesis Joice’s home province of Mashonaland Central. Sceptics, however, point out that she has used cover of such work to grab more land for herself.
Her grating confrontational personality and other negative qualities have increasingly come to the fore of late. In a typical abrasive fashion, during her so-called “Meet-the-People” tours across all the country’s 10 provinces, Grace used the most intemperate and vituperative language, accusing Mujuru of corruption and called on her to resign or risk being fired.
This is despite being instrumental in the 2004 campaign which led to the elevation of Mujuru to the vice-presidency, as she confessed recently.
Grace and her husband have already achieved notoriety by violating their own principle of one-man one-farm, taking advantage of Zanu PF’s controversial land reform programme to grab as many farms as possible. Mugabe’s family reportedly owns at least 10 farms through Gushungo Holdings and other networks.
Some of the farms owned by the First Family were exposed by Justice Ben Hlatshwayo in 2008 after Grace grabbed his farm, Gwina Farm, in Banket. Hlatshwayo took the matter to court arguing the First Family were multiple farm owners before he withdrew the case under massive political pressure. By the time he withdrew the matter from court, he had, however, exposed that Mugabe’s family also owned Mazowe, Sigaro, Leverdale and Bassiville farms through Gushungo Holdings, among other farms.
Grace is also best known for her extravagance and expensive overseas shopping trips.
Perceived as anxious to protect her wealth after Mugabe’s reign, the political bug has ultimately proved too irresistible for Grace who initially vowed to steer clear of politics and her entry has been nothing short of dramatic.
It has further divided the faction-riddled Zanu PF and unleashed a wave of instability in the party ahead of its December congress which promises fireworks.