By Moses Matenga
She rose to prominence in the late 90s when the media got wind of a child born out of wedlock and subsequently reported on the impending nuptials of Grace Marufu, a typist, to her former boss, President Robert Mugabe.
Then, Grace Mugabe was virtually unknown to most Zimbabweans, save for a few who whispered that she had pulled a relationship with the president, when his first wife Sally, was on her deathbed.
Her grandiose wedding became the talk of town as she shot to the State House to be a life partner to Mugabe, Zanu PF’s First Secretary and Head of State.
Grace, who had been formerly married to Stanley Goreraza, became the subject of public scrutiny and was roundly known for her reported penchant for a lavish lifestyle. There were reports of her numerous overseas shopping sprees. Clearly, politics was not her game.
With an age difference of 41 years with Mugabe, many thought she was a “gold-digger” who was there to simply enjoy the luxury associated with being a First Lady.
She would appear at State or Zanu PF functions showing little, if any interest in politics. She would bring along her children, Bona, Robert Jnr, Chatunga and her first child Russell Goreraza.
She confined herself to domestic affairs, raising children and running family projects and businesses seemingly detached from political dynamics in Zanu PF.
As the children grew up, she focused her energies on her orphanage and Gushungo Dairies owned by the First Family in Mazowe.
Rarely was she active in the public domain and only clawed into the political arena when Mugabe faced a tough 2008 election against MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai. She started addressing her own rallies denouncing Tsvangirai. in the few instances she would open her mouth to speak, she let loose her acerbic tongue with a classic example being the July 2013 election campaign where she spoke at length on how ugly MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai was.
“When [President] Mugabe first met him [Tsvangirai], he came back home shivering and I asked him, ‘what happened, have you been threatened?’ He said to me ‘I have never seen such an ugly person. He is ugly, ugly both inside and [on] his face,” she said.
“I was once told by his close associates who work with him that one day he [Tsvangirai] looked into a mirror and he fled his face saying I have seen an animal through the mirror.” The comments invited anger from observers and Tsvangirai loyalists.
Such pettiness did not point to a political creature in the making.
The year 2014 brought in a whole new Grace Mugabe. Far from the young woman who always dressed to the nines, the new Grace comes across as a powerful figure who wields so much power that the destiny of the party seems to be in her hands.
Her political life changed dramatically when she was unanimously nominated by the Women’s League and endorsed by the Youth League and traditional chiefs to take up the post of secretary for the Women’s League currently held by Oppah Muchinguri.
It is her transformation from being a “behind-the-scenes” spouse of Zimbabwe’s most powerful man to a fully-fledged politician who is now aiming to lead the country that has shocked many and raised more questions than answers.
Grace has dropped the high heels and the expensive outfits for party regalia and a headscarf, a motherly headdress that completes her look.
“She has been reading the Zanu PF politics from the backstage and seems to have mastered the art of navigating through the tough terrains,” said a senior Zanu PF official.
Wherever she goes now, she has ministers and senior government officials in tow. The presidential choppers are at her service.
Heavy security is always provided for by the state. Although she holds no post in Zanu PF, she is allowed to hold briefings with senior party leaders in provinces before the main rally for secret briefings, just like Mugabe . She is now accorded respect of the highest order by all in Zanu PF.
Feared political heavyweights in Zanu PF, among them Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa and Oppah Muchinguri call her “Queen Mother, Queen of Queens, a unifier par excellence.”
In her speeches, Grace can now go for more than an hour on the podium touching on one subject after the other, from social problems, factionalism in the party, corruption and other critical issues.
She is now fearless in naming and shaming high-ranking powerful party officials who she always accuse of plotting against her husband and recently made it clear that she was aiming at even the top post, that of President.
“You would see me quiet, a young girl, what did you think I was doing? I was learning,” she said in Masvingo, adding on to speculation that she was aiming to succeed Mugabe.
“So what is shocking you today? You made me what I am, I was copying from you. You are not supposed to be shocked; I am seeing a higher post. If you are not serious, women will take over the party.”
Though some say her speeches lack coherency, other analysts believe that her speeches now show someone who went through intense grooming and looks set to take politics seriously and like she said, aim for higher office.
“Her duty as First Lady entails political activity and she has tried to transform herself politically,” said political analyst Takura Zhangazha.
“Essentially she has not made a mark outside her husband’s shadows. She is preparing and is well coached to deliver speeches and argue her issues in the public domain though she is still trying. The preparations appear to be largely for public rallies, but politics is not just about that.”
Another analyst Blessing Vava feels that though Grace has tried hard to transform herself politically, it was too early to judge.
“I think it’s too early to judge, however. I think she is indirectly campaigning for a certain faction under the guise of unifying people,” he said.
“She is not her own person, the reason why she is doing all this is because of insecurity after Mugabe, and it’s clear that she is fronting some people.”
From a mere office secretary and a shopping addict, the sky may be the limit for Grace as long as Mugabe is still the president.
“When I was approached to come into politics and lead the women, one day I saw a vision of me ruling the heavenly kingdom. I’m here today witnessing it and I have decided to take up the challenge,” she told a rally in Masvingo recently.