PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe was on Monday said to be preparing to take an unprecedented step to sue both the British and South African Sunday Times newspapers following damaging claims that his wife, Grace, was having an affair with Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono.
Gono, the First Lady and a retired Air Force official named in stories published on Sunday would join in the action, a source said.
Both Gono, 51, and Grace, nee Marufu, 45, strongly deny having an affair, and according to a mutual friend of the pair, “they are ready to go to war” with the Sunday Times.
“There is a major meeting planned for Wednesday which will be attended by lawyers and advisers to the President and Gono,” the source said. “But be in no doubt, we are going to see one of the biggest libel lawsuits ever because this story is a mendacious hatchet job which should never have been published.”
In an e-mail to New Zimbabwe.com on Monday, the source, who asked not to be named, said The Sunday Times’ story was “so sloppy that they lacked the courage to put it in their Zimbabwe edition.”
The story, written by Jon Swain and published simultaneously by the South African and British Sunday Times newspapers, alleged Gono and Grace had been having an affair for five years, and had romped in hotels in Malaysia, Cape Town, a South African house owned by retired Air Vice-Marshal Robert Mhlanga and even on a farm owned by the First Lady.
News of the affair, according to the Sunday Times, was broken to Mugabe on July 26 this year by his dying sister, Sabina. Mugabe’s bodyguard, Cain Chademana, was present in the discussion but “mysteriously died … a matter of dies later”. Citing intelligence sources, the Times said he had been “poisoned under Mugabe's instructions by Mugabe's intelligence men, allegedly employing an undetectable poison.”
But our source, who said she had been in contact with both Gono and the First Lady since the story broke, told New Zimbabwe.com the story was “littered with falsehoods”.
For instance, she pointed out, on July 26, President Robert Mugabe was IN UGANDA attending an African Union summit and therefore could not have met his sister. The Sunday Times also wrote that Sabina died after a short illness.
But our source says around the time she is supposed to have met Mugabe and told her of his wife’s infidelity, she was in a coma and unable to speak.
New Zimbabwe.com has checked her claims which would appear to be backed by comments made by President Mugabe at a funeral wake for his sister on July 29.
Mugabe said Sabina first suffered a stroke in 1995 which “damaged a third of her brain”. Physically she would appear well, but mentally she became somehow confused, Mugabe said.
In devastating remarks which strike at the heart of the Times’ story, Mugabe went on to say: “I last saw her when I visited the hospital [July 24] on my way to Uganda. She could recognise me. I looked at her and she was very frail but at least she could recognise me.”
Mugabe was at the opening ceremony of the AU summit in Kampala, Uganda, on July 25. Lawyers for Gono, the First Lady and Mhlanga will point out that the central plank of the Sunday Times’ story – the said conversation between Sabina and the President -- therefore falls away.
Our source went on to point out various inaccuracies in the story, stating: “If they can’t get the small things right, how can they be believed on the major issues?”
She said: “The story claims Sally Mugabe died in 1996. That’s a lazy lie because she was already four years dead that year.
“The story claims Cain Chademana was a senior police officer and a decorated veteran of Zimbabwe’s independence struggle. That’s a decorated lie because Chademana died aged 36, and therefore too young to have fought in any war. Again, he was never a police officer.
“As a matter of fact, Chademana had an illness known to all those who worked with him and I can tell you it was neither poisonous nor mysterious. Many months before his death, he had taken leave and was nowhere near the President.
“The story claims that Grace and Gideon met at Mhlanga’s house in Johannesburg for trysts. If that were true, why would Mugabe go on and reward Mhlanga with diamond concessions in Marange as chairman of Mbada Diamonds?
“Gono played a major role in organising Sabina’s funeral. You don’t let a man who has been sleeping with your wife organise your sister’s burial; then let him sit a few feet behind you at the burial; especially if that same sister told you he was bedding your wife.
“The Sunday Times story is very sloppy, to say the least. In every paragraph you can find something wrong, if you really want to, and the biggest puzzle is that editors in London and Johannesburg saw no problem with it. Neither did they seek comments from the people whose names they published – a most basic journalism rule.
“They have made a bed, but far from Gideon and Grace sleeping in it, their editors will lie in it. They must prepare to live with the consequences.”
Attempts to obtain a comment from Gono drew a blank as he was was said to be in meetings with a visiting IMF delegation on Monday, while Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba was unreachable.
The latest threat against the Sunday Times follows a turbulent year for the paper which has run several retractions, including a damaging apology for a story claiming that Transnet -- the company behind South Africa's national transport businesses – was “selling out our sea to foreigners”.
Journalists from the paper have been facing a barrage of questions from South African TV and radio stations since Sunday. One of the editors from the paper told e.tv news channel that they were challenging Mugabe to deny the story, “then we’ll expose him”.
If Mugabe goes ahead with the threatened action, he would join South African President Jacob Zuma who sued Britain's Guardian newspaper for libel and won in March this year.
Zuma accepted "very substantial" libel damages and an apology at the High Court from the Guardian over claims he was a rapist. He sued after publication of an article headlined ‘Get used to a corrupt and chaotic South Africa’ by Simon Jenkins which appeared on March 6.
His solicitor, Jenny Afia, told Mr Justice Eady at the High Court the piece alleged the president was guilty of rape, corruption and bribery arising from his involvement in an arms deal. She told the court: "Such allegations are of the utmost seriousness and totally untrue."