THE RISE OF GRACE MUGABE, ZIMBABWE'S TRAGEDY
...Of Grace and Wives of Dictators
Grace Mugabe smiling all the way to the bank
Grace a threat to National Security
News of the firing of VP Mnangagwa by President Mugabe came in as I was researching and writing this article. The focus of my article was on the rise of Grace’s political power riding on the back of her dictator husband, and the case studies I was focusing on were the character and abuse of power by two wives of dictators in Romania and Philippines.
What is now playing out in Zimbabwe with Grace rising to power over the political “corpses” of her perceived opponents but decorated liberation fighters who were close to her dictator husband, is dividing the country and threatening national security.Rightly or wrongly, some are giving dangerous tribal interpretations to what is happening now. Wars have been fought on perceptions and interpretations, and those in political leadership have a moral and national responsibility to practice caution and emotional sensitivity in what they do or say.
As I will show, where wives of dictators capture power, they end up more dictatorial than their dictator husbands. They become intoxicated and entrapped by the very power that they sought in the first place.
However, if history is anything to go by, things never end well, for them, nor their husbands, or the country at large.
Grace’s rise to power
In just three years since her appointment to the position of Secretary of ZANU PF Women’s League in 2014, Grace Mugabe has risen to political power in Zimbabwe, and is only a month away from the Vice Presidency, which will put her within arm’s reach of the Presidency of Zimbabwe. The Munhu wese Kuna Amai might find its way into the national anthem.
This rise has been meteoric and would be phenomenal if it was deserved. But it wasn’t and it isn’t.
Her rise has everything to do with her being the wife of the all too powerful long-serving President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe. No merit, no history, no background, no character, no checklist, on her scorecard to justify her ambitions for the highest office in the land. other than sharing the bed with the President. Her right has been sexually transmitted (perhaps transfused is more appropriate) through her marital relationship with the President.
Jabulani Sibanda, we should have listened to you.
If this is meant to be a joke, I don’t see the funny side of it. Unfortunately, it is real.
The entire nation of Zimbabwe, educated and enlightened as we are, are totally arrested and transfixed on the rail tracks while this train blinds us with its headlights and is coming to crush us.
The confluence of dictatorship and ambition
The rise to power of the wives of dictators is the result of a confluence of two factors or elements whose presence and mixture tends to produce the political toxicity we are faced with today in Zimbabwe.
The first is the presence of dictatorship of the Presidency, and second is the crass and manipulative love of power and the good things in life in the First lady. Spice these two elements with old age on the part of the dictator, and you have the makings of a political atomic bomb.
Dictatorship alone is not the problem. Mugabe has always been a dictator, but none of what we see now happened when he was married to Sally, and for sure nothing like this would be happening if she was still our First Lady. Neither would the ambitions of a First lady alone result in what we see now in the absence of a dictator or the presence of one who does not allow this to happen. The two elements have to come together.
The Historical Anecdotes of Ferdinand Marcos and Nicolae Ceausescu
Two cases where such confluence can be anecdotal to what is unfolding in Zimbabwe at the moment are the cases of Imelda Marcos, wife of Philippines Dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled the Philippines with an iron fist from 1965 to 1986, and Elena Ceausescu, wife of Nicolae Ceausescu, who was the General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party from 1965 to 1989.
Both dictators were later deposed. Marcos died in exile in Hawaii, while Nicolae and his wife were shot on Christmas Eve in December 1989 as part of the revolution against communism and dictatorship.in Europe.
It is the story of their wives that is the focus, and how this should send a chill down the spine of every Zimbabwean, as you can see our First lady Grace Mugabe through the character and behaviour of these two women. Grace exhibits characteristics similar to theirs.
Imelda Marcos and Grace:
Ferdinand Marcos was the President of Philippines from 1965 to 1986. He crushed opposition, detained critics, and was responsible for the assassination of his main political opponent Benigno Aquino in 1983, an event which sparked a revolution that threw him out of power into political exile.
In 1963, the then Senator Ferdinand Marcos, married Imelda Marcos. Imelda was beautiful, charming, charismatic and well educated. She used this charm to campaign for her husband to become President. It is said when Marcos met Imelda, he was smitten by her beauty and he chased after her for a whole week asking for her hand in marriage.
During Ferdinand Marcos’s Presidency, Imelda Marcos became very powerful politically, that she was responsible for some( if not most) of the horrors and excesses of the Marcos regime.
President Mugabe married Grace Mugabe in 1996, and at that time she was a mere typist in the President’s office. Just like Ferdinand Marcos, Mugabe was smitten by Grace’s beauty, but unlike Ferdinand and Imelda, both Mugabe and Grace were both married when they started having an illicit affair. At that time, Mugabe’s wife Sally was suffering from a kidney problem.
Unlike Imelda, Grace married Mugabe when he had been power for 16 years, first as Prime Minister then President. She did not help him acquire power; she helped him abuse it.
Grace, Imelda and the love of the good things in Life:
Grace is known for her love of the good things in life. She loves foreign travel and shopping expensively, earning herself the nickname Gucci Grace, or the First Shopper. It is widely felt that the endless foreign trips by the President are at the behest of Grace to provide her occasions for some shopping. Otherwise, how can one explain his attendance at unimportant conferences where he is embarrassingly the only Head of State? And how come during the time Sally was First Lady, the President never travelled abroad as much as he does now?
The 52-year-old First Lady has a penchant for designer shoes and clothes, and before western sanctions were slammed against the First Family, Grace’s shopping cities of choice were London and Paris. At one time she spent a whopping USD 120 000 on shopping in Paris during a brief visit. At the moment she is in the courts with a Lebanese businessman over a botched deal to buy a diamond ring from Dubai about US$1.3million she claims was a wedding anniversary from her husband. This deal exposed Grace’s lavish lifestyle. Were it not for the fact that the deal went sour, the world would not know the extent of her caprices.
This story comes when the country has a shortage of foreign currency and externalization of funds is a criminal offence. The economy is suffering on account of lack of foreign exchange.
Imelda Marcos is reported to have wealth in excess of USD 10 billion, acquired during the time she was the wife of Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Her extravagant lifestyle and shopping sprees are a public record. She reportedly owned more than 1060 pairs of shoes, some of which are now in galleries and museums in the Philippines.
Imelda admitted to being obsessed with beautiful things, at one time telling a journalist that Philipinos loved beauty and she was the star they would look up to from their shacks. The fact that many Philipinos were living in abject poverty did not stop her from shopping. She was once quoted saying “when there is an election, it’s a time to shop whether we win or lose.
Other reports of her exploits were commandeering a plane to make a U-Turn because she had forgotten to buy cheese in Rome. At one time she spent US2000 on chewing gum at San Francisco airport. She bought perfume not by the ounce but by the gallon. She hoarded old masters, and at one point, she tried to buy Tiffany & Co.
The Philippine Government submitted handwritten notes and checks documenting purchases by Mrs Marcos of more than $2 million in one month at New York jewellers, including Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Fred Leighton and La Vieille Russie. This was part of the deposition against the Marcoses.
Some of her possessions left in the Presidential Palace when Imelda and her husband fled in 1986 were 15 mink coats, 508 gowns, 1,000 handbags, and many pairs of shoes. Of the more than 750 pieces of jewellery confiscated by the Philippines Government was a rare 25 carat barrel-shaped pink diamond, valued at 5million USD.
One US diplomat who knew Imelda put it thus:
“I don’t think that I have ever known any other person whom I would truly describe as amoral — not immoral, but amoral — simply without the instincts that most of us have that there is a right and a wrong. And yet she required constant adulation and attention.”
Grace is reported to be one of the wealthiest women in Zimbabwe. Apart from running Alpha and Omega dairy Farm, her family reportedly owns several farms and game reserves across the nation. She also built a school in Mazowe where pupils pay USD 3, 500 per term making it one of the most expensive schools in Zimbabwe. Her acquisition of land in Mazowe for an orphanage and her animal sanctuary pet-project rendered many villagers landless as they had to be evicted even though this was against a court order.
Grace is reported to own properties in Malaysia, Hong Kong, South Africa, and we don’t know where else. Her property in Sandton is reportedly valued at $3,4million. She built a Palace in Zvimba in the middle of nowhere just as Imelda had done in Manila, and had another one built in the leafy suburb of Harare.
Equally, Imelda was possessed with property acquisition. The Marcoses owned properties in several capitals, the most notable being the four Manhattan buildings worth hundreds of millions of dollars. In the Philippines, she built a palace on the of a mountain that was government property 90 minutes’ drive south of Manila, and the villagers around the mountain were all removed. She never stayed there.The villagers called it the “Palace in the sky”
Grace and Imelda and the abuse of political power
There are similarities between Imelda‘s abuse of her husband’s political power as First lady and what Grace Mugabe Marcos is doing now as First Lady of Zimbabwe.
On the day martial law was declared on 5 September 1972, Imelda Marcos had spoken to a group of foreign dignitaries that only America could afford democracy. This led many to conclude that Imelda was the person behind the declaration of Martial Law. She went on to call it “Martial law with a smile”.
Imelda Marcos was fingered in the arrest, imprisonment for eight years, and then later exile, of her husband’s fiercest political opponent, Senator Benigno Aquino Jnr. Aquino was later assassinated in 1983 at Manila airport, minutes upon returning from exile, setting off the revolution that later toppled Marcos.
It is strongly felt that President Marcos, was smart enough not to have organized the assassination of Aquino, but it is felt Imelda was not that smart and may have ordered it.
An American diplomat based in Manila at that time and knowledgeable about Imelda wrote that clearly, Imelda saw herself as the next head of the Philippines, a successor to her husband. She felt that with Aquino coming back and her husband apparently on his deathbed, this rival had to be eliminated.
Grace and the elimination of contenders
Not much is known of Grace’s political ambitions before becoming Secretary of ZANU PF’s Women’s League in 2014, but by then her entry into politics was already part of an orchestrated plan for her political ascendancy and the plan so far is flawless and is still unfolding, with many casualties in its wake.
Clearly, Grace was the power behind the throne even before this date, as she has always had her way with the President. Now that she has become politically assertive, Grace has gone after real and perceived political opponents of her despotic husband with relentless gusto.
Grace takes no prisoners, as seen by how she hounded former Vice President Joice Mujuru from power through relentless onslaughts. She used the same scorched earth approach on Vice President Mnangagwa, starting with the attacks during the 9th Youth Interface Rally in Bulawayo, and culminating in the humiliating ouster announced on 6 th November.
Grace flaunts her power publicly at rallies and dresses down big men and political heavyweights. She has tested her power on several occasions, even if just for fun, and seen how effective it is. She has said that Vice Presidents seek her counsel, even though there is no elective position on which to say so other than sharing the bed with the President. She ordered Local authorities to allow vendors onto the streets, and from that order, all cities were invaded by vendors, something her husband is now trying to undo.
For Grace, her husband’s power is her own. Realizing that this can have its own problems, the unfolding drama of Grace’s ascendancy may be a way of legitimizing this power that she already has.
Grace Mugabe and Elena Ceausescu
Elena Ceausescu was wife to Romanian dictator and the First Lady from 1967 to 1989 when both were executed on Christmas evening of 1989.
When her husband became the General Secretary of the Communist party, Elena rose from being an ordinary Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to become a Politburo member and the second most powerful person behind her husband.
Academic achievements and exploits:
Elena was not academically gifted. She left school at the age of 14 after failing all her subjects. At primary school, she only passed needlework. She later attempted to further her education through night school but was expelled after being caught cheating.
Even though she was academically challenged, Elena was awarded a PhD in Chemistry by the University of Bucharest and was promoted to a scientist. In 1966, she was awarded the order of Scientific Merit First Class. This is a woman who famously could not pronounce the chemical compound CO2.
At international science gatherings, she used a translator who would give the right answers regardless of what stupid and irrelevant statements she was saying. After the revolution, many scientists claimed they were forced to write papers, which were then published in her name.
Just like Elena, Grace Mugabe was a mere typist in the President’s office when she met her now husband President Mugabe
Grace failed most of the examinations she had written for a University of London Bachelor of Arts (English) degree. Little is known of her academic endeavours after that until reports came out that she had attained a degree in the Chinese language sometime in 2011 through distance learning with the People’s University of China. Nothing is known of her undertaking a Masters degree, normally a requirement for pursuing a PhD.
In 2014, to the surprise of many in the academic world Grace was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in the Faculty of Social Studies, and was capped by her husband, who is the Chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe(UZ). From the reported time of her enrollment for the PhD program in Sociology to her graduation, Grace must have attained her PhD in three months, a feat never tried let alone achieved before. Many think, just like Elena, she attained her PhD due to the political connections.
Manipulation of Power
Interestingly, Elena started to manipulate herself into the power matrix after a state visit to China and witnessing how powerful Chairman Mao Zedong's wife, Jiang Qing, exercised real power. Using the influence of her husband, she became a member of the Central Committee and thereafter rose through several party positions and committees, into the Legislature in 1975. In March 1980, she was made a First Deputy Prime Minister, a position she held until her execution in 1989.
Elena is renowned for her vanity and desire for honours. It appears Elena was more despised than her husband, and it is believed that, as he got older, many think Elena was fully in charge of all political decisions and was responsible for him taking the wrong direction for the country.
The similarities between Grace and Elena are mind-blowing because the two women also experienced popular displays of adoration but with very little sincerity behind those public displays. Bootlickers in Zimbabwe have gone into overdrive and some have emblazoned the portrait of the First Lady on their vehicles as a sign of support.
Anyone in Zimbabwe can testify to this based on the events over the past year. Grace just like Elena literally took over appointments not only in the party but in Government. We all witnessed how she dealt with her supposed enemies or anyone who got in her way. Grown men like George Charamba and Ray Kaukonde to name but a few were called out and embarrassed in public by the First Lady. Many heads rolled including that of former V. P and longtime ally of President Robert Mugabe, Joice Mujuru. Now the latest casualty is the head of yet another VP, Mnangagwa. We now know that Grace's vitriol is usually followed by action from the ageing dictator as is evidenced by the sacking of Mujuru and her allies and most recently the cabinet reshuffle which claimed the heads of those sympathetic to the Lacoste faction while members of G40 were rewarded.
How the Ceausescu’s and the Marcoses met their fate
Elena and her husband were deposed in the popular uprising and revolution of the Romanian people that started on the 22December 1989. They were then executed by a firing squad on 25th December (Christmas day) following a trial that lasted less than an hour.
As they were tied and led outside to be shot, both Elena and Nicolae were defiant. Nicolae Ceausescu refused to recognize the authority of the court and maintained that the revolution was organized by a gang of traitors backed by foreign interests.
As for Elena, in her last words, she said to the soldiers of the firing squad “Shame, shame on you. I brought you up as a mother. Stop it.”
Imelda and her husband Ferdinand Marcos fled the Philippines on the 25th February 1986, initially form Guam, the American protectorate in the Pacific, before heading for exile in Honolulu, where Ferdinand later died. Crowds celebrated in Manila, and surged into the palace, tearing down portraits of Mr Marcos and his wife and helping themselves to souvenirs.
In the two C-141 transport planes that carried them, the the Marcoses had packed: 23 wooden crates; 12 suitcases and bags, and various boxes, whose contents included enough clothes to fill 67 racks; 413 pieces of jewellery, including 70 pairs of jewel-studded cufflinks; an ivory statue of the infant Jesus with a silver mantle and a diamond necklace; 24 gold bricks, inscribed “To my husband on our 24th anniversary”; and more than 27m Philippine pesos in freshly-printed notes. The total value was $15m.
This was a drop in the ocean to the total 10 billion that was later confirmed they had amassed.
But the common denominator in their demise was the revolt by the people.
Power Corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely:
The cases of Imelda and Elena are just but examples of wives of dictators who have abused the powers of their dictator husbands to loot and climb to political power themselves. Given that the wives ride on the power of their dictator husbands, it seems this power has a multiplier effect when it settles on the wives. The wives seem to love to flaunt that power around, hence the public display at rallies.
The analysis and comparisons shown in Elena and Imelda, we see that in Grace Mugabe is Elena and Imelda combined.
The disturbing unfolding developments against VP Mnangagwa
Events unfolding regarding the fate of VP Mnangagwa, leading to his firing by the President at a hastily arranged Press conference on the afternoon of 6 November, has a lot and everything to do with Grace Mugabe. These events need to be seen within the broader context of a political game-plan to install Grace into power, and through her, install a Mugabe political dynasty in Zimbabwe in light of the President’s advanced age. The events of the past week are evidence to that.
The timing and manner of VP’s dismissal and the ZANU-PF Congress.
As the days of the ZANU-PF Congress drew nearer, attacks on Mnangagwa started to grow. I think the original plan was to remove Mnangagwa honourably at the Congress, and argue for a female Vice Presidency position. This plan was obviously altered recently with one to ensure that by the time come Congress comes, the Mnangagwa issue would be disposed of and the position will be vacant. That way at Congress Grace simply occupies a position already vacant.
This plan was inadvertently exposed by the ill-advised political press statement released on 6th by the Secretary of the Youth league, Chipanga, literally stating they want Grace as Vice President. This press statement was issued hours before the announcement of Mnangagwa’s dismissal.
And did he really have to end the Press Statement with “Pasi ne Lascoste”? Since when has that one started?
Connecting the dots, one sees that the Congress will no longer have to deal with Mnangagwa but deal with Grace’s ascension. Grace wants to eliminate as much strong opposition as she can while the real centre of power that is her husband, is still around.
There is also the issue of the manner of Mnangagwa’s dismissal which is designed to embarrass Mnangagwa and scare anyone who supports Lacoste. This is to destroy not just Mnangagwa politically, but to dismantle Lacoste completely, and scare his supporters that are in the party or Government. The grand strategy is institutional destruction. It worked with Mujuru, and it should work with Mnangagwa.
Grace gave this plan away at the rally on 5th when she said all Lacoste supporters are “dead”. At the same meeting she told Mugabe that if he wants to give her the job, he should have “no fear and give it to me freely”.
The Bulawayo and the Harare meetings of 3rd and 4th were held back to back, and the venom against Mnangagwa at these two meetings was much more than at the other rallies. The plan had been advanced by one month to ensure there is no opposition at Congress as everyone will be smitten and fearful. Grace is a roller coaster.
As Zimbabweans, we bear the blame
The characteristics of dictatorships include creating a personality cult and concentration of power around the dictator or a clique around the dictator. They are autocratic, oppressive, despotic and tyrannical. In the Zimbabwean case, there is an attempt to give them a veneer of legality, often manipulating, constitutions, acts and laws through legislature allowing them to do so. Hence this silly thing they call one centre of power. The system tries to regulate nearly every aspect of the public and private behaviour of citizens. That’s why the only news is ZBC news. That’s why we now have a whole Ministry on regulating social media. The above practices are however complemented by propaganda and violence to malign their opponents and anyone threatening their power. I fear we will be seeing more of the latter going forward.
These are characteristics present in President Mugabe and define his leadership style. He has captured state institutions to serve just him. ZANU PF is a party only in name, otherwise, ZANU PF is Mugabe and Mugabe is ZANU PF. He is handing this practice and structure to his wife. GOD HELP US.
Writing in 2011, and in reference to the behaviour of Muammar Gadhafi during the Arab Spring uprising, Neuropsychologist Dr Tammy Haynes, wrote something I found interesting about dictators:
“They don’t ask, they dictate. Dictators require detachment from empathy, a centric laser focus, belief in their own omnipotent powers, a keen understanding of the psychology of the people they lord over and yes, a tad bit of grandiose delusions”.
For tyranny to survive it requires accomplices. In many ways, we as Zimbabweans were complicit in what is happening today. We allowed this to happen. There are those in ZANU PF who helped create this undemocratic concept of one centre of power when the Basic 101 of democracy rests on the principle of separation of powers. There are those who would never countenance anyone ruling Zimbabwe other than President Mugabe. There are those of us citizens who chose docility and acquiescence because it was then only an inch of our freedom that was taken away, not realizing that the loss of an inch at a time is the loss of a foot with time, then a yard, then everything.
Today’s victims of this reckless behaviour by the First Family were cheerleaders when the dangers were unfolding. They cheered and abetted when the victim was Morgan Tsvangirai; they were silent when it was Itai Dzamara; they cheered and abetted when it was Joice Mujuru, Didymus Mutasa, and Rugare Gumbo. Now it is threatening to touch even the Army Chiefs. The question is, where will it stop? Who exactly is safe?
“In my opinion, until the ridden stand up and remove the saddle, Dictators will always have willing beasts of burden”.
Democracy and its values should be for everybody. Zimbabwe is now arrested by one Family, and unless something gives, we will all be singing a new National Anthem that starts with “munhu wese Kuna Amai.”
By the way
Did you see Simon Kaya Moyo reading the statement that fired Mnangagwa? Poor guy. He sounded like he was reading an obituary at a funeral. I wonder if he believed in what he was saying. Or again, he was singing for his supper.
Has anyone seen the Zimbabwean Opposition? According to their Facebook page and WhatsApp, they were last seen in 2013. Please ask them to switch on their gadgets. The people of Zimbabwe would like to speak to them.