Opinion

What’s next for Grace Mugabe in Mnangagwa’s Zimbabwe?

"You might want to recall that the land on which that home, the Blue Roof, stands was bought by the party, Zanu-PF, for their leader. Not a single cent came from the State...," said George Charamba.

FOR the whole of the past week since her husband Robert Mugabe passed away in Singapore, Grace Mugabe has presented herself to the world as a grieving widow whose face was barely visible from beneath a blue shawl in Singapore and subsequently a black veil in Zimbabwe as she attended State-sanctioned funeral programmes and accepted condolences from former friends and foes alike.

It’s been a rough week for her, as the man she called husband and protector for the past two decades and a half passed away after endless visits to the Gleneagles Hospital in Singapore.

Not that the death of Mugabe came out of the blue sky: it was seen from a long way off even by outsiders that Mugabe was hurtling towards the last of his life on this realm. Grace Mugabe, having been close to her husband all these years, might probably have prepared herself for the inevitable. However, death is never easy to take on the stride. Death is no one’s friend, and no one ever fully prepares for it.

Grace Mugabe pays her last respects during a state funeral of her husband and Zimbabwe’s longtime ruler Robert Mugabe, at the national sports stadium in Harare, Zimbabwe, September 14, 2019.

Her husband has barely been buried when private media is already awash with statements by Zanu-PF Secretary for Finance, Patrick Chinamasa, declaring that the Mugabes’ plush Blue Roof mansion in Harare’s affluent Borrowdale Brooke neighborhood is actually a ruling party property.

So in case Grace Mugabe had forgotten who owns “her” mansion, the ruling party’s Secretary for Finance has reminded her. That would appear as if Grace is being subtly reminded that she needs not embarrass the party as she might lose what she thinks she owns.

Mugabe himself once told the nation that a former leader of a Far East nation had helped him with building materials for the luxury residence.

More so, in 2014 ahead of Mugabe’s daughter Bona’s wedding which was hosted at the Blue Roof, Presidential Spokesperson George Charamba preempted the lavish lifestyle at the mansion and told State-owned media that the property was a Zanu-PF donation. And Zanu-PF has a rather unrivaled record of taking back what belongs to itself whenever it is expedient to do so.

Said Charamba: “You might want to recall that the land on which that home stands was bought by the party, Zanu-PF, for their leader. Not a single cent came from the State.

“Secondly, the structures which have become the private home of the First Family were painstakingly put up through a combination of private savings and donations from well-wishers. That makes the place not just a home for now, but  a home for all times for the Mugabes, in and out of office.”

But the Blue Roof is not the only property the Mugabes owned. Two months ago, Zanu-PF youths identified eleven farms owned directly by the former First Family which they want to help themselves with. The revelation of multiple farm ownership by the Mugabes was first made public by President Emmerson Mnangagwa himself, saying it had come out in the recently conducted land audits.

Among those farms is the one on which lies the sprawling Gushungo Dairy. Grace Mugabe also had investments on Mazowe where she runs a school, a charity and other projects. Some have hinted she is planning on settling there when the burial of her husband is finally buried, but that depends on many other factors and decisions that she and others around her will make in the next few weeks.

One also needs to note that Grace Mugabe is certainly no idiot who spent the past 25 years splashing on diamond rings and Gucci handbags; she invested heavily in real estate in South Africa and beyond. It’s not like Mugabe was hit by a meteor from outer space and died on the spot; his death was clearly coming and Grace had all the time to secure her future outside dependancy on politics.

The government of President Mnangagwa has so far shielded the former First Family from direct prosecution over their excesses while they were in power. Nothing suggests that is about to change.

That means that for now, we can safely say Grace Mugabe’s safety and stay in Zimbabwe after her husband’s burial depends entirely on how she interacts with Zanu-PF and its enemies.

If she entertains influence from the acerbic G40 factionalists who themselves are scattered across the continent for fear of prosecution, she will as well have to put up with life in self-imposed exile.

If, on the other hand, she plays the harmless former First Lady that she was before joining politics five years ago, she might as well sleep with both eyes shut knowing that the Mnangagwa government would not touch her.

This is not surprising. There are many relatives of the Mugabes who are freely able to go about their businesses in Zimbabwe, as they have yet to upset the Zanu-PF machinery. These include Walter Chidhakwa, Leo Mugabe, Philip Chiyangwa, Adam Molai, Bona Mugabe-Chikore and her husband Simba, among others.

It is not rocket science to say that save for a few cases, the fight against corruption in Zimbabwe is highly a politicized game. Those in close books with the powers that be are rarely touched even when cases against them are as glaring as the October sun.

Early this year, Vice-President Kembo Mohadi bashed his wife and threatened to kill her in full view of journalists and the police in Beitbridge, and nothing was done to him. Another close Mnangagwa ally recently defied a court order to vacate a gold claim in Kwekwe, and nothing was done to him.

Nothing might as well happen to Grace Mugabe as long she knows why lines not to cross. It’s a reality many people in Zimbabwe have come to accept.

Another dimension in the post-Mugabe life of Grace Mugabe is the issue of clan leaders of the Gushungo in Zvimba. Family insiders say the clan leaders never really liked a pompous Grace Mugabe as much as they did to the more humble, motherly late Sally Mugabe, Robert’s first wife.

The Gushungo totem leaders certainly do not hold any influence on President Mnangagwa’s administration, but they could act as a moral and social pillow for Grace should she be at loggerheads with the Zanu-PF system. But because they never really have been that close to Grace all the time she has been a First Lady and thereafter, it means she may not want to count on them for any kind of sympathy.

In all practical terms, this means Grace Mugabe either chooses to align with Zanu-PF and probably gets readmitted, or goes quietly out of the picture and live a life away from political trouble, or she goes head on against the Zanu-PF machinery and ends up at odds with it.

My take is that she will opt for the less cumbersome second option. She has enough investments of her own to grind an honest living away from the maddening political noise.

But considering she overestimated her influence in 2017 and challenged the military with disastrous consequences for her husband’s job, Grace might blunder again, and this time with even more gruesome consequences.

The thin aura of Robert Mugabe that shielded her after the 2017 military coup is gone with the old man, leaving her just covered by the thin black veil she has been wearing all week.

Felix Chiroro is a Harare-based political commentator and mathematical modeling analyst. He can be reached on felixchiroro@gmail.com 

 

 

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