Grace Mugabe (née Marufu, 23 July 1965) is the wife of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and the First Lady of Zimbabwe from her marriage to the leader in 1996.
Grace was born in Benoni in South Africa, and her family lived in South Africa until 1970. She was previously married to Stanley Goreraza, an air force pilot, who is defence attaché at the Zimbabwe embassy in China. As secretary to the president, she became his mistress while still married to Goreraza and together they had two children, Bona, named after Mugabe’s mother, and Robert Peter, Jr. The couple were married in an extravagant Catholic Mass, titled the “Wedding of the Century” by the Zimbabwe press, after the death of Mugabe’s first wife, Sally Hayfron.
In 1997, Grace Mugabe gave birth to the couple’s third child, Chatunga.
In 2014, Grace Mugabe was given a doctorate in sociology by the University of Zimbabwe only two months after registering at the university, although a dissertation does not exist. The degree was widely described as fraudulent. Grace Mugabe is under personal sanctions in the European Union and the United States for her role in the Mugabe regime.
Grace Mugabe was designated as head of the ZANU-PF Women’s League in 2014.
In late 2014, Grace Mugabe was fiercely critical of Vice-President Joice Mujuru, who was alleged to have plotted against President Mugabe. Ultimately the accusations against Mujuru resulted in Mujuru being eliminated as a candidate to succeed Mugabe and effectively becoming an outcast within ZANU-PF by the time it held a party congress in December 2014. Meanwhile, Grace Mugabe’s political prominence increased. She was nominated as head of the ZANU-PF Women’s League, and delegates to the party congress approved her nomination by acclamation on 6 December 2014. In becoming head of the women’s league, she also became a member of the ZANU-PF Politburo.
After observers from the European Union were barred from examining Zimbabwe’s 2002 elections, the EU imposed sanctions on 20 members of the Zimbabwe leadership and then, in July, extended them to include Grace Mugabe and 51 others, banning them from travelling to participating countries and freezing any assets held there. The United States instituted similar restrictions.
During her tenure as first lady, Grace Mugabe has overseen the construction of two palaces. The first, referred to commonly as “Gracelands”, became controversial for its extravagance, and Grace Mugabe later explained that she had paid for its construction with her own personal savings. It was later sold to Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. The second, completed in 2007, was reported to have cost $26 million to construct and to have been funded by the ZANU-PF party as thanks for Robert Mugabe’s political service.
In 2002, Grace Mugabe toured farm properties in Zimbabwe, looking for a new location for herself and her family. She chose the Iron Mask Estate, which had been previously owned by farmers John and Eva Matthews.
The first family owns property in Malaysia, and in early 2008, it was reported that Grace Mugabe hoped to move there with her children. The intention behind the move was to escape the stress of leadership and to address fears that the first family faces assassination. Recent reports indicate that she acquired property holdings in Hong Kong, including a diamond cutting business and a bolt-hole at House Number Three, JC Castle, 18 Shan Tong Road, Tai Po, New Territories. The media speculates that this property acquisition is intended as both a weekend getaway pad for their daughter Bona who is studying at the University of Hong Kong under an assumed name and that she and her husband expect to escape to China should they be ousted from power in Zimbabwe.
Diamond trade allegations and lawsuit
In December 2010 US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks brought up again earlier allegations that high-ranking Zimbabwean government officials and well-connected elites, including Mugabe’s wife Grace, are generating millions of dollars in personal income by hiring teams of diggers to hand-extract diamonds from the Chiadzwa mine in eastern Zimbabwe. Grace Mugabe is currently suing a Zimbabwean newspaper over its reporting of claims released by Wikileaks she had made “tremendous profits” from the country’s diamond mines. The president’s wife is demanding $15m (£9.6m) from the Standard newspaper.
Grace Mugabe is known for her lavish lifestyle. The Daily Telegraph called her “notorious at home for her profligacy” in coverage of a 2003 trip to Paris, during which she was reported as spending £75,000 (approx US$120,000) in a short shopping spree; and in the years leading up to 2004 withdrew over £5 million from the Central Bank of Zimbabwe. In Zimbabwe she is known sarcastically as “DR Amai” in reference to her Doctorate degree which she was given by her husband, Robert Mugabe. When Grace Mugabe was included in the 2002 sanctions, one EU parliamentarian said that the ban would “stop Grace Mugabe going on her shopping trips in the face of catastrophic poverty blighting the people of Zimbabwe.” She faces similar sanctions in the United States.
Assault on photographer
The Times reported on 18 January 2009 that, while on a shopping trip in Hong Kong, where her daughter Bona Mugabe is a university student, Mugabe ordered her bodyguard to assault a Times photographer Richard Jones outside her luxury hotel. She then joined in the attack, punching Jones repeatedly in the face while wearing diamond encrusted rings, causing him cuts and abrasions. She was subsequently granted immunity from prosecution ‘under Chinese diplomatic rules’ because of her status as Mugabe’s wife.
Daughter’s controversies in Hong Kong
Early reports indicated Bona Mugabe was a student at the University of Hong Kong. A protest started on the University of Zimbabwe campus on 3 February 2009 resulting in about 30 students needing medical treatment including police forces being used against defenceless citizens and harassments of students. Zimbabwe students were protesting to the P. R. Chinese embassy that Bona Mugabe should return home to Zimbabwe and study in the same conditions as her peers. Colleges and universities in Zimbabwe have failed to open at some point in 2008 due to dollarisation of fees and other economic problems.
On 17 February the University of Hong Kong distanced itself from the controversy, denying a report that she was a student there. The school statement said “We do not have a student by the name of Bona Mugabe on our student register, and we do not have any lady student from Zimbabwe who is reading for an undergraduate programme or is at the age of around 20.” Subsequent reports clarified that Bona is in fact enrolled in a second school, the City University of Hong Kong, which said she met normal admission requirements and her enrollment was not influenced by her parentage. Due to the attention surrounding Robert Mugabe’s daughters her family enlisted the help of a female ex-government official to provide safety and supervision during her time in Hong Kong.
According to Vice chairperson of the HK democratic party Emily Lau said the government should study whether to follow international practice in barring certain foreign politicians as many people might be looking at buying properties, investments or education in Hong Kong. Lee Wing-tat said Beijing should be making the decision since this was a foreign affair. Spokesperson Jiang Yu from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China said she was not aware of the Mugabes’ alleged house purchase in Hong Kong and would not comment further. A professor at the University of HK said Beijing was trying to stay out of the controversy. The Beijing central government dismissed the concerns, adding that Falun Gong members were allowed to buy properties in Hong Kong.
Controversy ensued when Grace Mugabe was given a doctoral degree in sociology in September 2014 from the University of Zimbabwe two months after entering the program. She was awarded the degree by her husband and University Chancellor Robert Mugabe. Her doctoral thesis is not available in the University archive and she has faced calls to return her PhD. This caused backlash in the Zimbabwean academic community, with some commenting that this could harm the reputation of the University.