She may have started out as a girl from Benoni, in Gauteng, but Grace Ntombizodwa Mugabe has become a name to be reckoned with.
Born in July 1965, Grace was for 11 years known as the first lady of Zimbabwe after being married to its then-President Robert Mugabe, who is 41 years her senior (but age is nothing but a number, right?!).
Speculation over the years has been rife that she and Robert started seeing each other while they were both married to other people.
The former first lady has often been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, and this week reports emerged that she had beat up her helper with a shoe.
It’s understood Shupikai Chiroodza received money as a wedding gift from Robert and that did not sit well the lady of the house, who accused Chiroodza of ‘milking’ her husband.
Papers filed in Zimbabwe’s high court by lawyers for Chiroodza alleged that Grace used her fists and then her shoe in a prolonged attack that left Chiroodza’s face pouring blood, AFP reported.
“She started beating me with clenched fists shouting, ‘Who do you think you are? You are milking my husband behind my back’,” Chiroodza said in her court application.
AFP also quoted the helper as saying: “I was terrified. She removed her shoe and continued assaulting me with it and blood started gushing out of my forehead, mouth and nose. The assault continued for about 20 minutes.”
Here are 5 other ‘disgraceful’ moments which have seen the former Zimbabwean first lady in the headlines:
Just last year, Robert was quoted as detailing how their relationship began behind their spouses’ backs.
Zimbabwean media said Robert was speaking at the funeral of Grace’s mother, saying: “Yes, we had [sic] get involved when Sally was still alive, I had to. Grace and I never dated either, I was just introduced to her and I said to myself she is a beautiful girl. So, she came as a secretary and they were many of them, I just looked at them and then it was love at first sight with Grace.”
But Robert was not known as a who sat back and not go after what he wanted: “Then I said to her one day, I love you and she didn’t respond. I then grabbed her hand and I kissed her. She didn’t protest or refuse and then I said to myself now that she has accepted to be kissed, it means she loves me.”
The former first lady got the name ‘Gucci Grace’ back in early 2000 for her lavish shopping sprees. It’s understood she once spent £40,000 in an hour in Harare and another £75,000 in a single Paris shopping spree. At the time, Zimbabwe’s economy was already in limbo, with companies forced to shut down and 1 US dollar was estimated to be equal to 5,624 Zimbabwean dollars. Money was not an issue for “Gucci Grace’.
Controversy has followed Grace’s PhD in Philosophy from the University of Zimbabwe ever since she obtained it in 2014 in record time. Reports at the time suggested that her husband actually marked her thesis, fuelling speculation the degree was not awarded honestly. Last year, the university’s vice chancellor Levi Nyagura was arrested on charges of abuse of office over the PhD and the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission has been investigating whether the PhD was wrongly awarded.
ATTACK ON SA MODEL
In 2017 Grace was accused of attacking model Gabriella Engels at a Sandton hotel. However, she claimed to have been acting in self-defence, saying Engels attacked her with a knife. Pictures circulated on social media, showing injuries Engels sustained to her head from being hit with an extension cord. She said she had to get stitches following the incident. Grace was later granted immunity by the South African government, a decision which the High Court in Johannesburg set aside. It was only last year that the National Prosecuting Authority issued a warrant of arrest for Grace over the incident.
- Grace is not only known for some extreme actions, but her words have also hurt a few along the way. In 2015, she sparked outrage when she made remarks insinuating that if women wore short skirts, they deserved to be raped. According to reports she said, “If you walk around wearing miniskirts displaying your thighs and inviting men to drool over you, then you want to complain when you have been raped? It’s unfortunate because it will be your fault.”
- Shortly before that, she had told the crowd at a rally that she often skipped meals in solidarity with the hungry in her country. At the time, the UN said around 900,000 Zimbabweans were in need of emergency aid. She even urged journalists to sign up for some of the rice she distributed at the rally so they could stop writing unflattering reports about her.
- At a 2017 rally, Grace told the crowd that her husband would be on the ballot paper even if he was dead. She was then quoted as saying: “If Mugabe dies, we will field his corpse as a candidate for elections to prove that people love him.” She had previously also told Zimbabweans that Robert would rule from the grave.