First Lady of Zimbabwe

Jun 18, 2009 | Tags: , , | Category: First Ladies

Grace Mugabe, First Lady of Zimbabwe

Grace Mugabe, First Lady of Zimbabwe

Grace Mugabe, First Lady of Zimbabwe

Grace Mugabe (née Marufu), (born 23 July 1965), is the second wife of current Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and the First Lady of Zimbabwe from her marriage to the leader in 1996.

Mrs Mugabe, also called the First Shopper, was previously married to Stanley Goreraza, an air force pilot, and now working in the Zimbabwe embassy in China. As secretary to the president, she became his mistress and together they had two children, Bona, named for 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 Mr. Mugabe’s first wife, Sally Hayfron. In 1997, Grace Mugabe gave birth to the couple’s third child, Chatunga. Grace is popularly known in Zimbabwe as “Dis Grace”, a reference to her extravagant life-style while maintaining political responsibilities as first lady.

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 Mrs Mugabe and 51 others, banning them from travelling to participating countries and freezing any assets held there. The United States instituted similar restrictions.

uring 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 has since been 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 Grace acquired property holdings in Hong Kong, including a diamond cutting business and a bolt-hole at at House Number Three, JC Castle, 18 Shan Tong Road, Tai Po, Hong Kong. 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.

Grace Mugabe is known for her lavish lifestyle. The Daily Telegraph called her “notorious at home for her profligacy” in a 2003 coverage of a trip to Paris, during which she was reported as spending £75,000 (approx US$120,000) in a short shopping spree; and over the past years leading to 2004 has withdrawn over £5 million from the Central Bank of Zimbabwe. In Zimbabwe she is known sarcastically as “Gucci Grace” or “The First Shopper” in reference to her numerous, lavish European shopping sprees. 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.” Mrs Mugabe faces similar sanctions in the United States.

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, Mrs Mugabe ordered her bodyguard to assault a Times photographer named 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.

Early reports indicated Bona Mugabe was a student at the University of Hong Kong. A protest started on the University of Zimbabwe campus on February 3 resulting in about 30 students needing medical treatment including police forces being used against defenseless 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 since 2008 due to dollarization 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.