The Rise of “Gucci Grace,” Zimbabwe’s “First Shopper”

Robert and Grace Mugabe  


Above, Joice Mujuru in December, 2012; top, Robert and Grace Mugabe in August, 2013,  DANDJKROBERTS/CREATIVE COMMONS , above; RICHTER FRANK-JURGEN/CREATIVE COMMONS, top
Above, Joice Mujuru in December, 2012; top, Robert and Grace Mugabe in August, 2013, DANDJKROBERTS/CREATIVE COMMONS, top; RICHTER FRANK-JURGEN/CREATIVE COMMONS, above

November 19, 2014

Sally Mugabe was much loved in Zimbabwe and many believed, with some justice, that it was only her steadying hand that stopped her husband, President Robert Mugabe, from becoming the feral tyrant that emerged after her death.

In the months before her death in January, 1992, it was widely known in Harare that she would soon be taken by the liver disease from which she had suffered for several years. It was also known that the President had not waited to become a widower before seeking comfort elsewhere. At least three years before Sally’s death Mugabe had taken one of his secretaries, Grace Goreraza, as his mistress. More than that, he had two children by Grace. A daughter, Bona, named for the President’s Mother, was born around 1989, and a boy, Robert Jr, was born a few months after Sally died.

The story circulating in Zimbabwe at the time, and widely believed, illustrates the esteem in which Sally Mugabe was held, but it also attempted to save Robert Mugabe’s reputation. Sally Hayfron was a Ghanaian studying at a teacher’s college in what was then Southern Rhodesia where she met Robert Mugabe. They married in 1961 and the couple had a son, Michael, in 1963. But Sally and Robert were both deeply involved in the fight against the white minority government in Rhodesia. They lived lives on the run or in detention or prison. The boy developed a severe case of malaria and died in 1966.

Sally Mugabe was unable to have more children. So, as her death approached in the early 1990s, the story around Harare was that Sally had not been deceived or jilted by her husband. Instead it was said she had herself chosen Grace Goreraza from among his secretaries to give him female comfort and provide the children the First Lady was unable to bear.

The story that Sally Mugabe chose Grace to be her successor not only reasserted the First Lady’s saintly image, it also absolved Robert Mugabe and Grace from criticism for their affair. We now know this story was rubbish, and we know it from Robert Mugabe’s own mouth. Last year he gave an extraordinarily candid interview to a South African journalist about his love life. Asked about his affair with Grace, Mugabe said: “It was not just the fact that one was attracted to her. After Sally was gone it was necessary for me to look for someone, and even as Sally was still going through her last few days. Although it might have appeared to some as cruel, I said to myself ‘Well, it’s not just myself needing children, my mother has all the time said, ah, am I going to die without seeing grandchildren?’”

“So I decided to make love to her (Grace). She happened to be one of the nearest and she was a divorcee herself, and so it was. We got our first child when my mother was still alive.”

Mugabe’s account of the timing is, to say the least, duplicitous. And Grace was married, not divorced. Her husband was Stanley Goreraza, a pilot in the Zimbabwe Air Force. He was shuffled off to the Zimbabwean embassy in Beijing. Grace and Robert were not able to marry until 1996, after her divorce came through and arrangements were made with the Roman Catholic hierarchy for the couple’s personal histories to be set aside so that an extravagant religious wedding ceremony could be held.

At that time, 1996, life for the majority of Zimbabweans was probably the best it ever had been before or since. In the 16 years since the end of white minority rule and the coming to power of Robert Mugabe first as Prime Minister and then as executive President there had been steady improvements in the lives of most people. The economy was developing nicely, and, by African standards of the time, its performance was stellar. The end of apartheid in neighbouring South Africa and with it international sanctions boosted trade. The consumer goods shortages of the early years of independence had gone. Zimbabwe’s supermarket shelves were stocked with a wide variety of affordable things to buy. Reallocation of government spending after the years of white rule meant that more money was going into rural schools and health clinics. Some endemic illnesses like tuberculosis had been eradicated, and though it was clear HIV-Aids was going to have disastrous effects, it was still a looming threat rather than an immediate one.

It was true that Mugabe and the leaders of his ruling ZANU-PF party had grossly enriched themselves since coming to power. But by and large the country seemed to be heading in the right direction.

Since the wedding of Robert and Grace, however, it has all been downhill. President Mugabe has single-handedly destroyed the economy. Inflation made the currency worse than useless and Zimbabwe had to adopt the United States dollar and South African rand. Four million Zimbabweans – a third of the country’s 12 million population – fled to neighbouring countries. Famine and disease gripped the country. Only in the last couple of years have things started to improve.

What became rapidly apparent to everyone after the 1996 wedding was that Grace has a lust for power and wealth almost beyond the country’s power to provide for her passions. Grace has become the most reviled and hated woman in Zimbabwe. She has amassed a vast personal fortune by taking control of the Chiadzwa diamond mine. And she has, like many ZANU-PF leaders, used her husband’s campaign to expel white farmers to steal farms for herself – including, on one occasion personally evicting an elderly white couple from their land.

Grace also spends massively. In the early years of her marriage to Mugabe she had two palaces built. The first is known as “Graceland,” and the second, completed in 2007, was reportedly sold to Libya’s now dead former leader, Moammar Gaddafi, for $26 million.

Sanctions against Robert Mugabe for his abuses of human rights have limited the number of countries to which the First Family can travel and be welcomed. One place is Malaysia, where Grace is reported to have bought substantial property. Another is Hong Kong, where Grace is said to have bought a house and a diamond cutting business. Hong Kong is also one of her favourite shopping haunts. So is Paris, and in one short visit in 2003 she is reported to have spent $120,000 on French knick-knacks.

Grace has had several lovers, much to the outrage of her husband, who, as always, tends to react with violence, but not violence against Grace. It is her unfortunate paramours and their associates who have a habit of winding up dead.

Not surprisingly, what will happen in Zimbabwe when her husband dies is a matter of intense personal interest for Grace. She has so many enemies and so many people wish her ill, she needs to either control the succession or to prepare to flee the country. Her overseas properties are all ready if flight becomes unavoidable. But she is also fighting hard to control who takes over as president. To that end she has inserted herself into the ZANU-PF hierarchy by being appointed head of the party’s Women’s League. She is now trying to ensure that either a trusted supporter, the Minister of Justice Emerson Mnangagwa, or perhaps she herself is poised to take over the presidency when the increasingly frail Mugabe dies.

In recent weeks Grace has launched an extraordinary public campaign against her most dangerous opponent, Vice-President Joice Mujuru. Grace has given speeches across Zimbabwe accusing the Vice-President of corruption and demanding that she step down. There has also been a sustained purge of senior provincial party officials who support Mujuru. The campaign has Grace’s fingerprints all over it.

The danger Mujuru presents to Grace is intense. As Mugabe’s deputy, Mujuru would almost automatically take over if Mugabe dies in office, and she would therefore be in a prime position to win the presidency in her own right. More than that, Mujuru is widely respected in the ruling ZANU-PF party. She is a heroine of the guerrilla war against Ian Smith’s white regime in the 1970s. Her nom-de-guerre was Teurai Ropa (Spill Blood) and among her feats was the shooting down of a Rhodesian army helicopter. Her husband, Solomon Mujuru, was also a liberation war hero, who went on to become the head of Zimbabwe’s army before retiring to his farm in 1995. But he remained a major political power, and the only man considered with enough stature and support within ZANU-PF to challenge Mugabe. That prospect ended on the night of 15 August, 2011, when Soloman Mujuru died in a fire at his farm house. There are many suspicious circumstances around the fire and no one doubts why it happened and who arranged it.

Few people would therefore be surprised if Joice Mujuru nurses desires for revenge. A front page story this week in the state-controlled newspaper, the Harare Herald, played to that suspicion. The story claimed that Mujuru was part of a plot hatched by two senior ZANU-PF officials loyal to the Vice-President to arrange the assassination of President Mugabe.

Mujuru vehemently denies the allegation and says she will take legal action against the newspaper. But no one doubts she is in a fight for her political life – and maybe for her life itself – as the ZANU-PF party congress approaches next month when the choice of successor to Mugabe will be at the centre of the agenda.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2014



Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has traveled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.



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