Zimbabwe First Lady Grace Mugabe. From lavish lifestyles to abrasive politics, controversy is her second nature. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP
Grace Mugabe is no stranger to controversy and drama.
The 52-year-old Zimbabwean First Lady’s love affair with President Robert Mugabe, which started when both were married and their eventual marriage in 1996, was materials fit enough for rousing telenovela.
But the alleged assault of a model, said to be a girlfriend of one of her sons, in South Africa earlier this week may bring her back to her senses even after she was granted diplomatic immunity.
It was alleged that Mrs Mugabe hit the 20-year-old Gabriella Engels and injured her on the face last Sunday.
Ms Engels claims that Mrs Mugabe assaulted her after she found her with her sons, Robert jr and Chatunga Bellarmine.
It seems Mrs Mugabe also assaulted her sons, known for their high-rolling lifestyles, according to speculations in South African media.
Ms Engels suffered cuts and bruises and had to crawl out of the room to escape, she claimed.
She said that the first lady’s bodyguards stood by and watched. Her family and lawyers have vowed to pursue the case.
Mrs Mugabe has not yet publicly addressed the assault allegations, fanning speculation in the mainstream and social media.
Her whereabouts was a subject of intense media coverage until she was allowed to fly out of South African on Sunday.
First, it was reported on Monday that she had surrender to police, who confirmed that they would take her to court later in the week.
On Tuesday, news had it that she had fled back to Harare where she was expected to attend an anniversary of the Zimbabwean army.
But in the course of the week, it emerged that she was still holed up in a hotel in South Africa where she was expected to accompany her husband to a SADC summit taking place in Pretoria.
Andon Saturday, there was news of Zimbabwean officials working frantically to seek diplomatic immunity to protect her against prosecution.
They succeeded and she left South African on Sunday.
A section of South African media on Saturday claimed that Mrs Mugabe alleged that she hit Ms Engels in self-defence because Ms Engels had attacked her first.
“She is adamant on the issue of protecting herself because she feels she was attacked," South African weekly, Saturday Star, quoted an unnamed source as saying.
"She says she was attacked by the victim and that she also has her own injuries, which she is not going to publish in the media."
News of attack followed an avalanche of calls for prosecution of the Zimbabwean First Lady from civil society organisations.
Back home in Zimbabwe, Ms Mugabe is a staple in the mainstream media.
She is politically active, which gives her opportunity and forums to speak her mind every other day.
She was designated as head of the ZANU-PF Women’s wing in 2014.
If she is not in the news insulting a government minister, she would be featured accusing a vice president or another high profile government official of piloting to take power.
Recently, she hit headlines after she publicly called upon her husband president to nominate a successor.
Last month, she went public with news that she had somehow escaped unhurt from a freak accident that would have otherwise left her disabled.
She ‘revealed’ that her leg was run over by Mr Mugabe’s bullet proof limousine and that it was a “a miracle” she could still walk.
“I am telling you, I was run over by the armoured car… My leg was crushed and I thought I was not going to walk the rest of my life,” she was quoted by the Zimbabwean media as saying.
The accident happened when the limousine sent to pick them up from the airport, on July 15, moved off before she got in.
They were returning from President Mugabe’s medical check-up in Singapore.
He political ambitions are not a secret, neither are her abrasive tactics.
In late 2014, she was fiercely critical of Vice-President Joice Mujuru, who allegedly plotted against her husband President Mugabe.
Ultimately, the accusations against Mrs Mujuru resulted in her elimination as a candidate to succeed Mugabe and effectively becoming an outcast within Zanu-PF.
Following the ouster of Ms Mujuru, she was nominated as head of the Zanu-PF Women’s League, and delegates to the party congress approved her nomination by acclamation on December 6, 2014.
In becoming head of the women’s league, she also became a member of the Zanu-PF Politburo
Grace Mugabe hit the headlines again in 2014 with the revelation that she had gained her PhD in sociology from the University of Zimbabwe only two months after registering at the university, although a dissertation does not exist.
The degree was widely described as fraudulent and the news was received with shock by many Zimbabweans some of who demanded that she hand back the doctorate.
Many also believed the PhD was also part of her machinations to position herself to succeed her husband as the President of Zimbabwe.
Some academicians such as Kate Law and Helen Garnett say as Mugabe has aged, his wife has been operating as the ‘power behind the throne’, and that it is Grace who has encouraged the authoritarian nature of Zanu-PF.
“It’s lazy, but convenient to rest on the ‘Lady Macbeth’ argument when one considers that Mugabe inherited one of the strongest economies in the region in 1980, with the country seemingly going from bread basket to basket case by the early 2000s,” they argue.
But Grace is also known for her lavish lifestyle and seeming and shopping sprees that have earned her the name of ‘Gucci Grace’.