Bulawayo – Heard of the president who always made sure to buy his little daughter uniforms from Marks and Spencer each time he made a trip to London?
Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe’s controversial policies (land reform, company seizures) are well-known.
But did you know that Mugabe loves beef and may be about to get a salary hike?
Here are eight things you didn’t know about Africa’s most-talked-about president:
1. Bought Bona clothes from Marks and Spencer
This is something we learnt just before Bona Mugabe, Mugabe’s first child with Grace, got married in 2014. In comments carried by The Patriot newspaper (even more loyal to the president than the Herald, if that’s possible), Mugabe said: “Each time I would visit England I would go to Marks and Spencer and there I would always buy something for Ouma even if I did not buy anything for anyone else I would buy for her and it was always a uniform.” Mugabe called the young Bona Ouma, by the way.
2. Built a kitchen hut
Mugabe’s mother’s cousin Cecilia Mupariwa told the Sunday Mail last week that Mugabe built a kitchen hut at the family homestead in Kutama (about 80km south of Harare) when he was a teenager. She says the hut still stands today. It’s proof, Mupariwa says, that Mugabe is a “consistent man”. A good builder, anyway.
3. Is the topic for a $15 000 essay competition
A $15 000 prize is a huge amount in a country where most in the informal sector (and that’s a big swathe of Zimbabweans) earn less than $200 a month. But that’s what Home Affairs Minister Ignatius Chombo is offering to the young Zimbabwean who writes the best 5 000 word essay on the “attributes of His Excellency”. The lucky winner is expected to be announced on Saturday. Wonder what Zimbabwe’s striking doctors, currently paid $1.20 an hour when they’re on call, think of this?
4. Had tea, scones and jam with the archbishop of Canterbury
This was when the then archbishop Rowan Williams visited Mugabe at State House in 2011. Williams had come to Zimbabwe to try to get the president to act on what many saw as the four-year persecution of the country’s Anglicans by the then bishop of Harare, who was loyal to Mugabe. Mugabe served the archbishop scones, tea and jam “but little sympathy”, according to the Guardian.
Mugabe also used to eat pancakes on Tuesdays with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai when they were part of the coalition government.
5. Likes beef but doesn’t eat much of it
It’s one of the things Mugabe thinks has helped him live so long. He told state TV on his 91st birthday that he’d been “bred on beef”. But he said he’d learnt to limit the quantities so he didn’t get gout.
6. Tucked up his son Bellarmine in bed
Remember that VERY awkward photo of Mugabe dourly eating his meal in a Singapore restaurant while his family partied round him a couple of years ago? It certainly didn’t give the image of a hands-on dad. But there have been tender moments, if his younger son Bellarmine is to be believed. Bellarmine (other name Chatunga) told South Africa’s Dali Tambo during the filming of a 2013 documentary that he loved it “if I sleep and I’m outside the blankets, he [Mugabe] will come and tuck me in.”
7. Ran up the stairs in Maputo
It’s hard to imagine this now, given the frailty Mugabe displayed on state TV earlier this week. During the 1970s – when he was in his fifties – Mugabe was based in Maputo. That’s when he used to run up the stairs because “the lifts didn’t work”, he said in an interview in 2015. No-one can imagine Mugabe running anywhere now: state TV doesn’t focus on him when he walks, for fear of a re-run of the #MugabeFalls embarrassment.
8. Could be in line for a salary hike
This isn’t too surprising, though it’s certainly shocking. The Financial Gazette reports this week that treasury “has budgeted for an increase in the salaries and allowances of President Robert Mugabe and his two deputies”. No officials have been willing to confirm the claim. The last time Mugabe’s salary was openly discussed was back in 2015 and it was then $12 000 a month (less than an essay: see above).
A little birthday present, maybe?