By Staff Reporter
A RECENT study by a group of South African academics has confirmed the widely held view that Zimbabwe’s former First Lady, Grace Mugabe used her proximity to the most powerful man in the land, at the time, to interfere with government decisions and was closely embedded in her husband’s leadership fights within Zanu PF.
Grace, wife to former President Robert Mugabe, joined two other African First Ladies who, according to the study, emerged as the most influential people in their roles to a point of influencing government decisions.
The research, African First Ladies Database, released this week by South African-based academics, Jo-Ansie van Myk and Chidochashe Nyere, says the role played by the wives of heads of state in Africa has been largely ignored.
“Three emerged as particularly influential,” says the study.
“These were Janet Museveni, wife of Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni; Grace Mugabe, the wife of Zimbabwe’s former president Robert Mugabe; and Denise Nkurunziza, wife of Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza. All have been politically ambitious and actively supported their husbands’ rule.”
The report further says Grace, during her time, was a power broker and member of an inner circle who used strategies to support her husband’s campaigns through downplaying, denying or simply remaining silent on the failures of Mugabe’s government.
The report said Grace used her proximity to her husband to gain access to influential political networks which she exploited to buy properties and also run her own businesses.
“Her political career spanned a mere three years (2014-2017) when she was elected as the President of the Zanu PF’s Women’s League.
“This role meant that she automatically became a member of the party’s Politburo.
“She was successful in gaining support for her husband’s tenure as well as her own political ambitions from religious leaders, youth and the Women’s League, traditional leaders, and minority apostolic churches. She made some noteworthy claims of support for her husband.
“For example, she publicly stated that even if he (Mugabe) were to be incapacitated, Zimbabweans would vote for him because he was God-ordained.”
According to the report, besides addressing religious gatherings, Grace used her nationwide “Meet the People” tours to brand herself.
“Grace Mugabe often welcomed and hosted foreign Heads of State and Government at her Harare home, and at State House.
“We believe there should be constitutional clarity and accountability – which would herald accountability – on the formal role, powers and functions of First Ladies.”
This came to an end in November 2017 when Mugabe was ousted as a president in a coup and was replaced by Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The report was issued at a time when many Zimbabweans now feel current First Lady, Auxillia Mnangagwa was now behaving like Grace.