Notorious for her foreign shopping sprees and obsession with Ferragamo shoes, Grace Mugabe has long been a figure of derision in Zimbabwe.
Now the 49-year-old – known as ‘Disgrace,’ ‘Gucci Grace’ or the ‘First Shopper’ – is launching an astonishing bid to become the world’s first female dictator – backed with millions in cash from a deeply unsavoury British millionaire.
Grace, who has hitherto only been interested in sex, shoes and shopping after Mugabe plucked her from the presidential typing pool, is being secretly bankrolled by Nicholas van Hoogstraten, the British slum landlord who fled to Zimbabwe in 2007.
Secret documents obtained by MailOnline – compiled by Mugabe’s intelligence chiefs, who carry out surveillance on all those close to the president – claim that Hoogstraten is paying millions to Grace to help fund her campaign.
Hoogstraten, one of the largest landowners in Zimbabwe, where he lives in a hotel with a rotating cast of female guests, is named in the documents as giving $62m to bankroll Grace’s presidential bid.
A woman of enormous appetites, Grace has spent £2m on shopping this year, including 62 pairs of Ferragamo shoes and 33 of Gucci, 12 diamond rings, a $115,000 Rolex and – most astonishingly – a $300,000 diamond-encrusted headboard. The papers also show she has spent £30,000 on lingerie, with Jean Yu and Strumpet her favourite brands.
Before Grace and her husband were banned in 2002 from travelling to Europe due to human rights violations, her favourite destination was London, where her favourite shop is Harrods, but was equally at home in Paris, New York or Rome.
After one trip to London, where she stayed in a suite at Claridges with dozens of bodyguards in tow, she was asked how she could justify spending so much on designer shoes while people starved. ‘I have very narrow feet, so I can only wear Ferragamo.’
She and Hoogstraten make an unusual pair. In return for his support, the Briton is promised a bigger share in a vast power plant that supplies the entire country with electricity ‘if he pays for her (Grace Mugabe) to ascend to the presidency’ – something she has pledged to achieve by ‘eliminating’ all her opponents.
Once described by a judge as a ‘self-imagined devil who thinks he is an emissary of Beelzebub’, van Hoogstraten was implicated in a brutal gangland slaying of a business rival, and was named as the organiser of a grenade attack on a priest.
The documents – if the information they contain is true – also show Grace and Hoogstraten are in cahoots over another multi-million pound fiddle: diverting salaries meant for state employees at the giant Hwange Colliery into their own private accounts.
They emerge at a crucial time. This week President Mugabe fired his deputy Joice Mujuru and purged the cabinet of all her allies amid speculation that his wife is winning the battle behind the scenes to succeed him when he dies.
Mr Mugabe, 90, who has ruled Zimbabwe since its independence in 1980, has not anointed a successor, but Ms Mujuru had been widely tipped to take over until she was accused of trying to kill him last week, when she was sacked as the deputy of the ruling Zanu PF party.
The documents obtained by MailOnline show Mrs Mugabe is amassing some significant support.
They state: ‘Collaborated intelligence shows that Mr Van Hoogstraten is working at the behest of the First Lady (Grace) to acquire a controlling stake in Hwange Colliery Company…to raise Mr Van Hoogstraten’s stake from 30% to 43% if he pays for her ascendancy to the presidency.’
He has already helped Grace with her investments from corrupt schemes, helping her build up a global property empire with homes in Cape Town, Hong Kong, Dubai, Mauritius and two properties in Manchester.
This British criminal is part of a gang of unsavoury characters hoping that, by bankrolling Grace, they will be rewarded by plunder of the country’s natural resources, which include a diamond field believed to be the biggest in the world.
The documents claim that more than $750m worth of diamonds were smuggled out the country by Grace last year, using crooked middle-men in Dubai, South Africa and India.
The gems were taken from the Marange diamond field in the remote south-east of Zimbabwe, where ‘hard stones’ were so common that small boys used them for hunting birds with catapults, and is now a military zone following the discovery of vast diamond deposits.
Chinese companies were allowed by Mugabe to plunder the fields in return for weapons. Hoogstraten is already working with the Chinese middle-men organising the smuggling, say the documents, but wants more.
He already owns 1,600 square miles of prime land in Zimbabwe, as well as two sprawling homes replete with tennis courts, swimming pools and garish chrome architecture, with grounds patrolled by Mugabe’s secret police.
In 2007, Hoogstraten came to live in Zimbabwe permanently – he had owned land here since his 20s – repeating his mantra that ‘the only purpose in creating great wealth is to separate oneself from the riffraff.’
He was arrested over illegal pornography in 2008 and was held briefly by Mugabe’s police. But he was swiftly released and made a point of dining at Zimbabwe’s most exclusive restaurants every night for a week with a different local girl in tow.
He has prospered in Zimbabwe, where life expectancy has plummeted to 50 under Mugabe’s rule. He was granted mineral concessions for the role he played in the last elections in Zimbabwe in 2013, when he donated millions and helped campaign for Mugabe.
Now, with the despot set to turn 91 in February and in poor health, he is ensuring he is also well-regarded by Grace, who has vowed to destroy all those who mocked her as she rose from a presidential typist to being a heartbeat away from power.
In a taste of the chaos to come, Grace unleashed her bid for political power this week when Joice Mujuru, the popular vice president and her rival to become president, was brutally dismissed from her husband’s cabinet on trumped-up charges of plotting to assassinate him.
Viciously attacked in public by Grace, who accused her female rival of ‘treason’ and plotting with Mugabe’s enemies to kill him, Mujuru was stripped of her powers at an emergency cabinet meeting yesterday, as the state-owned media denounced her as a ‘traitor’ who was ‘corrupt, foolish and a disgrace.’
With the vice president’s family fleeing across the border to South Africa, and Mujuru’s whereabouts last night unclear, fear is sweeping Zimbabwe as Mugabe purges scores of politicians and officials from inside his ruling ZANU-PF party on the orders of Grace.
At the same time, Grace is demanding her husband, who has prostate cancer and regularly falls asleep at important cabinet meetings, sack powerful security chiefs in charge of the police, army and intelligence services.
Fearing these shadowy figures may mount a bloody coup to block her rise to power, plunging the country into chaos, Grace is urging that her husband ‘eliminates’ all opponents to pave her rise to the presidency.
Incredibly, Grace has made clear that she wants to run the country with Dr Gideon Gono, the country’s former finance chief, who was forced from office in disgrace in 2010 after reports that he and Mugabe’s wife were lovers.
In one section of the documents headed ‘Bedroom Coup’, it’s revealed that Grace retains ‘close links’ to Gono, who is a regular visitor to the twelve different homes she has in Zimbabwe, leading to ‘continued breaches of security protocol’ by male visitors to her homes.
She is not, however, acting alone in her bid to be dictator. In the shadows is a man called Emmerson Mnangagwa, known in the local Shona language as Ngwenya (The Crocodile), who helped orchestrate the genocide of 25,000 tribal opponents of Mugabe in the 1980s.
The confidential intelligence papers reveal that he is orchestrating Grace’s rise to power, which has been agreed with ‘Zim1’ (Mugabe), and will be the real power. He is also a friend of Hoogstraten.
Many Zimbabweans can’t wait for Mugabe to die, hoping it will bring an end to the country’s misery. Perhaps they should be careful what they wish for.
Alexander Mackenzie, a spokesman for the property magnate, said: ‘Mr van Hoogstraten strongly refutes the vast majority of the contents of the article.
‘His family have worldwide holdings worth several billion pounds. He himself owns nothing. He is neither a millionaire or billionaire.
‘All of the van Hoogstraten/Hamilton family’s holdings are held by an array of corporate vehicles, trusts, nominees and offshore companies. Collectively the various entities hold north of $2billion.
‘The percentage holdings suggested that the van Hoogstraten/Hamilton family and the Zimbabwean Government respectively own of Hwange Collery are at significant variance with reality. They are indeed substantially larger.
‘The supposedly “leaked” documents are without doubt forgeries.’
Mr Mackenzie also denied that Mr van Hoogstraten had fled to Zimbabwe.
He added: ‘Whilst he may spend a substantial amount of time there, he has other significant affairs to deal with worldwide and indeed has built one of the largest homes in the United Kingdom – Hamilton Palace, owned by the entities mentioned above.
‘Mr van Hoogstraten is a long-term supporter of President Mugabe, the First Lady and the ZANU-PF, all of whom are pillars of democracy and hold the nation’s interest at the forefront of their agenda.
‘I should also add that he has never been convicted of being a pornographer.’