Sally Mugabe’s legacy renders Grace “evil incarnate.”

It’s really hard for most people to like Grace Mugabe. In order to write this article, I needed to suppress all my prejudices. Her husband Robert Mugabe is a dictator. The rest of the Zimbabwean population is suffering from lack of jobs, inadequate healthcare, bad roads which have claimed the lives of many people, the hospitals are understaffed and without medicine, the quality of education has dropped significantly, and electricity is sporadic. Zimbabwe is a ghost of its former days. The last 10 years has seen millions of Zimbabweans leaving the country than at any other time of the country’s history. The barbaric butchering of white farmers and the looting of their property without due process and the murder of members of the opposition are events that people will never forget. Yes, I have every reason to hate Grace Mugabe.

If you cannot get to the man, go after his wife. Many people are frustrated with the situation in Zimbabwe and they blame Mugabe for all the problems the country is facing. The vilification of the wives of political leaders is based on the ancient belief that a woman controls the man from beneath the bed sheets.

“The real controversy surrounding Grace was the extent to which she influenced her husband. There are many in Harare who speculate on the link between Mugabe’s post-1996 savagery and the apparent vulgarities of his newly acknowledged wife,” Stephen Chan, Robert Mugabe: A Life of Power and Violence.


The roots of Grace’s relationship with the public began many years ago. First there were rumours in the press that Mugabe had fathered two children with his secretary Grace Marufu. Their affair, The Standard reported, started while the first lady Sally Mugabe was still alive. Furthermore, Grace was not only his secretary but a married woman whose husband had been posted abroad on a foreign mission. The implication was that Mugabe wanted him out of the way. The journalist and editor who broke the story were briefly detained and later released from jail.

Grace is judged against the background of Sally’s legacy
Before there was Grace, there was the formidable Sally Mugabe. Sally was a woman of many accomplishments who was regarded by many Zimbabweans as the mother of the nation. A trained teacher like Mugabe, she was seen as a good match for the highly educated Mugabe. Not only was Sally educated, she was a political activist and was involved in the liberation struggle.

March-1980-Robert-Mugabe Sally Mugabe Zimbabwe LiberationShe was briefly sent to prison by the Smith regime and upon her release she went to exile in London. She campaigned and support the struggle and her husband from there. In 1975 Mugabe was released from jail after serving 10 years. He fled to Mozambique where she joined him. She was also affectionately called Comrade Sally Mugabe, an acknowledgement of her contribution towards the independence of Zimbabwe. These days Mugabe’s critics lament her loss like orphaned children.

“If Sally was alive, she would never have allowed Mugabe to do the things he has been doing,” they say wistfully.

Her predecessor, Grace, became first lady during Zimbabwe’s worst period after independence. The poor woman never had a chance to form her own identity before people projected it on her. When a woman marries a politician, she marries his whole party, its ideology for better or worse. You are not a free woman any more. You can’t change your affiliation.

Zimbabweans frown on someone who starts a family out of wedlock. Many people believed Grace had seduced Mugabe from behind her secretarial desk. Not only was Grace seen by many as unqualified intellectually to be the next first lady, she was a divorcee to boot. It was like the maid sleeping with the master of the house, then the maid getting married to the master of the house after the death of the mistress. Women like that are not marriage material. The people didn’t approve of this kind of behaviour from someone they looked up to like the head of state, despite the fact that Mugabe had done the right thing in marrying Grace. Most men don’t marry their mistresses in Zimbabwe. In 1996 Mugabe finally officialised their relationship with a lavish wedding in church, further infuriating the public because the two were considered to have sinned, cheating on both their spouses. The poor woman had applied for a job as a secretary. The boss wanted more than a secretary. She thought she was having an affair. The boss wanted a baby. You get the picture?

Mugabe wanted a baby badly and a woman in his office whom he could keep an eye on was a suitable choice. How can a woman say no to Mugabe without leaving the country? Unlike her western counterparts who have political advisers, personal assistants, and stylists, Grace had none of that. She had maids and house workers, but not a professional team. Thus, she started with her dreadful and disastrously stiff British “Princess Di” suits, hats and gloves which she purchased from Harrods, London.

Grace-Mugabe_reference In emulating Princess Diana, who was a global phenomenon in those days, admired and loved by many people, one can presume that Grace wanted to be loved and admired, if not the world, but at least by Zimbabweans. But her outfits further removed her from ordinary Zimbabweans. The outfits were not even African, people said.

Let’s face it. I can’t imagine that it’s easy to be married to a dictator. WikiLeaks recently disclosed that a healthy Libyan president travels around with a buxom blonde Ukrainian nurse. One can imagine that the Libyan first lady has no say in this arrangement, no more than Grace has a say in the running of Zimbabwe. But if one would believe the various news reports you would think otherwise. Some of the stories had Grace ordering money from the Reserve Bank, diamond deals etc. While Grace might have unlimited access to money and diamonds and even business deals, she probably gets some of these as gifts. One can speculate that within Zanu-PF a lot of people are jostling for power, they want to be closer to Mugabe. What do they do in their endeavours? They lavish the boss’s wife with gifts: “Anything you want Madam President, just call me, if you want so and so … ”

My father, who is in his mid-70s, is younger than Mugabe, but he is just as stubborn as Mugabe. I can’t imagine being married to a man like my father even though he is a good man. Despite being beaten by Mugabe’s militia during the last elections he voted for Zanu, even though I tried to influence him to vote for the MDC. My mother laughed. “You know how stubborn your father is, he never listens,” she said. What my father, a good, honest, hard-working man doesn’t realise is that, had Mugabe followed up with the promises he made at independence, his life would be much easier today. There would be a clinic and school within walking distance. He would be self-sufficient, not relying on me to provide money for medical expenses, travel and other expenses. There would be a road and public transport nearby. Instead when he gets sick, which is often these days. The neighbours have to harness a scotch cart drawn by a team of oxen to take him to the main road — a two-and-a-half-hour walk — from where one of my brothers, who live in Harare, will pick him up. For the last two years, my parents have supplied the Grain Marketing Board with tons of maize. They have yet to see a penny for their sweat. Instead, they were given seeds and fertiliser as compensation for the tons of maize they supplied the government.

Grace knows that this marriage is for life and comes with a lot of baggage and loss of freedom. You never get to say what you really think; instead people define who you are. You don’t disagree with your husband. You are not Cécilia Sarkozy. You don’t have the guts to leave such a powerful man. Where would you go? There is the matter of the children too. Your relatives, now used to basking in the glow of being part of the presidential family and privileges that come with it, don’t want you to go anywhere. See? You have no support. So, what do you do? You eat cake. You think about tomorrow and your children. You buy property overseas because you don’t’ feel secure given the shenanigans of your husband and his cronies. You resign yourself to your fate. You sing along. You shake your clenched fist into the air and shout “forward with Zanu!”, “down with the Americans and down with the British”. Then you go buy your Gucci and Prada. At least they are real, not fake.

Jane Madembo is a Zimbabwean freelance writer based in New York. By day she works as a communication associate.

Check Also

Zimbabwe: Adhere to Covid-19 Protocols or Else – Minister

By Mukudzei Chingwere Herald Reporter Government will not hesitate to re-introduce tough Covid-19 control measures …

This function has been disabled for Zimbabwe Today.