FIRST Lady Grace Mugabe celebrated her 51st birthday last Saturday, an event that prompted a deluge of epithets from cabinet ministers and heads of state entities who took the art of bootlicking to new levels.
By Herbert Moyo
It would have been comical had the country not been in the middle of a tragic socio-economic crisis.
A state-run daily marked the occasion with a 12 page supplement where the government officials and state entities fell over each other, variously describing Grace as “an astute businesswoman”, “a philanthropist”, “a visionary” “a unifier” or the “woman who conquered Africa” among other descriptions.
“You are pacesetter for Zimbabwean women through your entrepreneurial robustness that has urged on fellow women to think outside defined parameters,” said an advert from the Bindura University of Science (Bus).
Equally, and without the slightest hint of irony, Midlands State University officials said they “continue to draw inspiration from your exemplary and commendable achievements in the business sector as evidenced by the positive impact that your business ventures are making on the Zimbabwean community in line with ZimAsset national aspirations.”
The business venture in question — the multi-million-dollar Alpha Omega dairybusiness, for long touted as a model of success following the country’s controversial land reform programme — has been anything but successful as it has struggled under the weight of debt, mismanagement and misappropriation of funds.
In 2014, Grace revealed to wives of traditional chiefs that Alpha Omega owes banks over US$20 million that was used to kick-start operations.
Last October, while addressing guests at a family function in Mhondoro, President Robert Mugabe expressed his frustration over looting and corruption at the company.
“I decided to start a dairy business,” he said.
“See what was happening: nobody can tell us where the money is. Some (employees) did accounts, but prefer not to follow proper accounting procedures to hide their thievery. We have hired auditors from Ernst & Young and what they are unearthing is shocking.”
This year the business plunged to new lows when products like yoghurt and ice-cream disappeared from supermarket shelves as the company failed to meet production targets.
This is the same business which MSU and Bus fell over each other to laud Grace about.
Given a choice, it is unlikely that these and other struggling state entities like Air Zimbabwe, PSMAS, NetOne, CAAZ and ZESA Holdings would have taken up expensive acres of space in the supplement considering their precarious financial situations.
They, however, as observed by political commentator Dumisani Nkomo, have to demonstrate their allegiance to the growing Grace personality cult “which springs from widely held perceptions that she controls her husband President Mugabe and is effectively running the country.”
“Therefore, all these officials and state entities find it necessary despite the financial difficulties to fall over each other in massaging the ego of the lady perceived to be the actual ruler in the country,” Nkomo said.
Grace is complementing Mugabe in growing the First Family personality cult. Over the years Mugabe has surrounded himself with sycophants who will do anything to stroke his ego. After all, this is a path well-trodden by dictators like Adolf Hitler, Mao Tse Tung, Joseph Stalin and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un over the centuries.
The Mugabes probably stole a leaf from the copybook of their role model North Korean ally who was treated like a demi-god. The late leader Kim Jong-il had his life history re-written as part of the personality cult to state that he was born in 1942 in a secret military camp on Baekdu Mountain, where his father was waging guerrilla warfare against the imperialist Japanese. That mountain now enjoys the kind of religious significance in North Korea that is often reserved for the likes of Mount Sinai. This is despite the fact that official records of the former Soviet Union government show that Kim was actually born in a refugee camp near Khabarovsk in 1941.
“From these humble beginnings, the exaggerations of Kim’s achievements grow rapidly,” the Telegraph reported in 2011.
“He was walking at three weeks and talking at eight weeks. He wrote six operas in three years at university, as well as no fewer than 1 500 books. He is also credited with 11 holes-in-one and a 38-under par the first time he picked up a golf club and is equally a genius at architecture and directing movies.”
Not surprisingly Grace’s history has been re-imagined and presented to portray a heroic larger-than-life character whose journey to greatness began when she returned to rural Chivhu from her birthplace of Benoni in the Eastern Rand South Africa.
Like the North Korean leaders, Zimbabweans are often shown images of Grace surrounded by adoring children suggesting that she is indeed a loving mother of the nation. She was even fraudulently awarded a dubious PhD by her cronies at the University of Zimbabwe. Perhaps these images would have struck a chord and the public would have given her the benefit of the doubt but her conduct since her entry into politics in 2014 as secretary of the Zanu PF women’s league has done her no favours.
Far from being the unifier that the supplement called her, Grace’s entry into mainstream politics signalled the beginning of probably the biggest purges in Zanu PF since its formation in 1963. Her unsubstantiated and reckless allegations set the tone for the dismissal of former vice-president Joice Mujuru and several bigwigs for purportedly plotting the ouster and assassination of Mugabe.
There has been little if any evidence to suggest that Grace is the caring and loving mother so glowingly described in the supplement. Rather her rallies which were beamed live on state television have shown Grace to be an emotionally-charged and hysterical woman given to salacious gossip and crude expletive-laden language not fit for a First Lady or a person who aspires for universal acclaim.
“I am not Mugabe’s b****,” Grace disgracefully thundered while addressing a rally in Chiweshe in February. Mugabe has also complained about her behaviour in a leaked 41-minute audio tape.
“Once she decides things should be done in a certain way, then that’s it. You can argue and shout at each other to no avail. I end up surrendering, giving in because we cannot continue the slanging match. What will the children say when we continue insulting each other,” Mugabe said of Grace.
Government officials, struggling state entities and the Pravda-like state media could do well to heed the late 1990s witty Texas governor Ann Richards who famously remarked that “you can put lipstick on a hog (pig) and call it Monique, but it is still a pig.”