Harare – Zimbabwe’s First Lady Grace Mugabe turned 52 on Sunday, and state officials and media went into overdrive to sing her praises.
“A mother, a philanthropist, a First Lady,” gushed the headline on a special six-page supplement published in her honour by the state-run Sunday Mail.The newspaper and the supplement carried large, full colour advertisements from struggling firms, including debt-laden Air Zimbabwe and the Mugabes’ own dairy firm, Gushungo Holdings.
“Our loving mother turns 52,” said the airline, where Grace’s son-in-law Simba Chikore holds a senior position.
The tradition of turning Grace Mugabe’s birthday into a big media event only started after her promotion to the head of the women’s league in 2014. The only other person in the country to get this kind of attention on his birthday is President Robert Mugabe.
It’s speculated that Grace Mugabe is being groomed to eventually take over from her 93-year-old husband, who is set to stand for re-election next year.
‘She can stand the heat’
A front page story in the Sunday Mail quoted a niece as saying Grace Mugabe was a caring wife, but also a tough person who can “withstand political pressure.”
“Politics is not an easy game, but she can stand the heat,” said the niece, Farai Chinyani, adding that the First Lady “takes care of her husband all the time.”
Information Minister Christopher Mushohwe went a gear up, describing Grace Mugabe as “a woman of substance” who has a “visibly irrefutable influence in both her philanthropic work and political life.”
‘An honest opinion?’
On social media on Sunday, some scoffed at state media’s attempts to mythologise her.
“A philanthropist doesn’t kick out resettled farmers from the land; neither do they restrict peoples’ access to a water source,” said @Baekithemba, in reference to the eviction of settlers from Manzou Farm north of Harare, allocated to the First Lady, and recent reports (since denied) that she’d taken over the iconic Mazowe Dam.
Commented Tobias Sibanda: “Philanthropic? Have they canvassed the people of Mazowe, for example, and got their honest opinions?”