FIRST Lady Grace appears to be living in the shadow of President Robert Mugabe’s first wife Sally, who died 24 years ago.
BY RICHARD CHIDZA
Grace — who reports say had an illicit relationship with Mugabe while Sally lay on her deathbed before marrying the Zanu PF leader at a lavish ceremony in 1996 at which two children were presented — recently laid bare her fears at a rally in the rural outpost of Chiweshe.
Addressing a crowd of predominantly schoolchildren — who were forced to chant Zanu PF slogans and sing as well as dance to ethnic songs — the First Lady revealed she was angry at people who compared her to what many regard as Zimbabwe’s version of “mother of the nation”.
Mugabe later warned people against making unkind remarks about his wife, saying that was being disrespectful. He issued the warning at his birthday party held in Masvingo last week.
Speaking about her relationship with Mugabe, Grace said: “If Mugabe was a person of loose morals, he would have children all over the place. We have not even begun to talk about your immoral activities and the children you have all over the country, but you like to abuse other people. Mugabe took a second wife nicely, I got married well,” Grace said, jerking her head in menacing fashion, eyes bulging.
She was not done yet and went on: “I am not Mugabe’s prostitute, that you can spend time gossiping about!”
Seen as humble, Sally’s shadow continues to loom large over Grace and comparisons between the two dominate social and political discussion among Zimbabweans.
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The First Lady said she has continued to be abused and compared to Sally — the revered national heroine. Grace’s lavish lifestyle, the perception that she has forced Mugabe to stay in power longer than he would have had Sally been still alive, continues to dog the First Lady everywhere she goes.
She is also seen as more sharp-tongued and has seemingly made more enemies than friends since joining active politics almost two years ago. Sally was at one time Zanu PF women’s league secretary in the politburo, the same position that Grace now occupies, but there is no indication she ever abused party leaders.
“I am constantly abused. Let me tell you, they put a picture of Sally there, mine and Mugabe’s. They say this woman [Grace] has no morals, no dignity,” said Grace.
In 2014, as hordes of Zanu PF leaders, youth, women and traditional leaders trudged to her Mazowe Children’s Home to “show support” for her nomination to the position of Zanu PF women’s league in the politburo, Grace admitted she had customarily married Mugabe while Sally was alive.
“It did not start today that a man marries two wives. I will not feel bad about it. Let them write whatever they want,” said Grace, drawing comparisons between Mugabe and South African President Jacob Zuma, who she said she admired “because he [Zuma] stands for what he wants.”
Grace was previously married to Stanley Goreraza — an ex-Air Force pilot-cum-intelligence officer with whom she sired a son Russel — before her official marriage to Mugabe. Mugabe and Grace have three children — Bona, named after Mugabe’s mother, Robert Junior and Chatunga Bellarmine. Bona was born when Sally was still alive but battling with a kidney problem before succumbing to the ailment in January 1992.
Mugabe claimed in an interview with South African journalist Dali Tambo that Sally was aware of his relationship with his former secretary before she died. Asked about the affair with Grace, Mugabe said, “It was not just the fact that one was attracted [to her].
After Sally was gone it was necessary for me to look for someone and, even as Sally was still going through her last few days, although it might have appeared to some as cruel, I said to myself well, it’s not just myself needing children, my mother has all the time said, ah, am I going to die without seeing grandchildren?
“So I decided to make love to her. She happened to be one of the nearest and she was a divorcee herself, and so it was. We got our first child when my mother was still alive.”
Asked if he had told Sally about the affair with Grace, Mugabe said: “I did tell her and she just kept quiet and said fine but she did ask, ‘Do you still love me?’ I said yes. And she said, ‘Oh, fine’.”
Sally, from Ghana, became Zimbabwe’s first heroine to be laid to rest at the national heroes’ acre, with her death drawing an outpouring of grief among Zimbabweans across the political divide.
A senior veteran of the liberation struggle Francis Zimuto, whose nom de guerre during the liberation war was Black Jesus, described Grace as a “young girl with unmotherly behaviour”, once again drawing comparisons with Sally.
“We had President Mugabe’s first wife, Sally, who was very down-to-earth and died like that. Why is she [Grace] challenging the powers of our president in public?
“We should not be afraid of her. Tell her that, ‘Mother, go home, sit down and cook for your husband’. We expect that someone who is the president’s wife should behave in a motherly way. When I look at Grace, she is a young girl, calling her First Lady is not our culture because she is even younger than me.
Young girl, you got it wrong,” Zimuto told a meeting in Masvingo recently as tempers flared over Grace’s unpalatable comments about war veterans and Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
It seems Sally’s huge shadow will continue to hover over Grace, whose relationship with Mugabe reportedly inspired the street lingo “small house”, which means a mistress “because she used to live in the smaller house at State House during their early courtship days”.