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Mugabe's fall from Grace is complete

POWER COUPLE: Robert and Grace Mugabe

WHERE DID it all go wrong for Robert Mugabe, you ask. Cherchez la femme, I say. 

After all, is it not nearly always the case that when a man of substance loses his dignity you can find it in the warm embrace of the fairer sex? Is there anyone who honestly believes that when that loss of dignity is compounded by a 40 year age gap in ascending order from the girl to the man that it does not compound things even more?

For example Grace, his wife, was in her twenties when he started checking her. He was in his sixties. She still wanted, like any twenty year old, to go out raving and dancing. He was already tired of all dem tings - if not knackered. How can she not have worked out the sums and thought, if he lives to be a right old age like 93, he will be too tired to carry out the conjugal duties of a husband.

Surely these are the practical considerations for any young woman who is naive enough to think that people will only ask whether her partner is her dad. At some point they will start asking whether he is her grandad.

But it is not just the age gap between the two that is a mis-match. The social gap between them is even more startling. Remember, she was a simple typist when the president started showing affection for her. A very different class. Imagine Prince Harry dating a common matchstick seller from old Covent Garden. It would be a pygmalion.

What’s love got to do with it? When you are president of a nation your status demands a level of pragmatism that rules out marriage as anything other than convenience. Who really cares what your feelings are for your chosen one as long as she/he upholds the dignity of the office of First Lady/First Husband.

Grace Mugabe, however,  became the First Shopper of the nation, a laughing stock who they were calling Gucci Grace in the slums of Harare because of her frequent shopping trips abroad from which she returned with an armful of designer shopping bags. I know a white Zimbabwean, who was no lover of her husband, who accompanied her on a flight returning to Zim and what he has to say about that experience would make the mind boggle.

To say that Grace is common is to understate the point. Remember she was to be put on trial in South Africa for whipping a woman with an electric cord in South Africa. If it had not been for the support that Mugabe’s armed fighters provided for the the ANC during the struggle against white apartheid rule she may have been languishing in a prison cell as we speak. And before that of course she had been involved in a street brawl with a photographer who happened to snap a shot of her emerging from a designer shop abroad.

That is who Grace Mugabe is. I know nothing about what she is like behind closed doors, but Lady Macbeth come stop mind. The very idea that Robert Mugabe was lining her up to succeed him as president in the event of his passing was absurd, ludicrous and utter madness. So ridiculous indeed, that the army couldn’t stomach he very thought and decided to put an end to any such notion by intervening its what looks, smells and feels like a coup.

Though they insist, for political expedience that it wasn’t and by the same expedience they have not said that they effectively ousted the president because of his missus but every schoolboy on the Harare omnibus knows what it was about. I wonder if any of them can whistle Tina Turner.

Of course Grace Mugabe is not totally to blame. Great men bring about their own downfall however much the woman in their arms contributes to it. And do did Robert Mugabe.

The once revolutionary leader who took on British colonialism at its own game both on and off the battlefield and won was once a shining beacon of resistance and liberation and black pride throughout the diaspora. He was the living embodiment of Garvey, Malcolm, Martin and Shaka Zulu. He was so successful in defeating British colonialism that he exported his revolution across the border to help Nelson Mandela’s ANC defeat the might of South African apartheid racism.

So emblamatic was this man that Bob Marley paid his own way and that of every member of his band and entourage to Zimbabwe to perform a free concert on Independence Day in Harare. It was the biggest concert ever. Some estimates say a million people were in attendance. Some estimates say more. And Bob Marley even penned a tune in celebration and admiration for what had been achieved by Mugabe:

Natty Dread it in-a (Zimbabwe)
Set it up in (Zimbabwe)
Mash it up-a in-a Zimbabwe
Africans a-liberate (Zimbabwe)

In 1980 it really felt like what happened in Zimbabwe would liberate black people the world over. That is how important that was. The Zimbabwe revolution HAD to work.

And it did. For the first decade it worked. Despite Mugabe seizing the land that had been appropriated by the racist white government of what was previously known as Rhodesia, on behalf of white farmers, and then redistributing it to black people (a move the world said would end in tears) Zimbabwe’s economy grew by between two and three percent every year. 

And then Robert met Grace.

Within a couple of years Mugabe went from hero to zero as his economy tumbled and white folks were quick to say “Didn’t we tell you.” Even Lord Carrington, the former Thatcher Cabinet Minister whose job it was to broker the so-called Lancaster House talks about the transition from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe was quick to tell me, when I was at his London gaff just at the back of Harrods department store, that he had predicted Zimbabwe’s problems.

“Mugabe was a good boy to start off with,” he said, “but then started misbehaving….”

It is humiliating for all black people to have to put up with white people (and some black people too) constantly reminding us, ever since Robert met Grace, that Zimbabwe used to be the “bread basket” of Africa (yes, they continually role out those very words as if they were reading off a bash Mugabe script) but now it is the “basket case” of Africa.

We’ve heard it some much since Robert met Grace that wee have started to believe it ourselves. And our children too. We have started believing that black people cannot organise a supper even when they are handed a bread basket full of free food to start off with.

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