The three most powerful influences in the life of Robert Gabriel Mugabe were all strong women. Two had some of the qualities that make saints. The third, a woman known as Gucchi Grace, Zimbabwe’s First Shopper or after an incident with a young model in South Africa, Mugabe’s Big Whopper, was equipped with all the attributes of Jezebel.
His good, kind mother Amai Bona Mugabe handed him a moral compass which he treasured when he was a fatherless child at the Kutama Mission, 70 miles out of Harare.
When he was a schoolteacher in the late 1950s he met an intelligent and cultured Ghanaian, Sally Heyfron. Mugabe was on a four year teaching assignment in the first African country to gain independence (1957). She told him to guard that moral compass as if it was a sacred flame and follow the needle pointing towards African freedom in white-ruled Southern Rhodesia.
Then came a drumbeat of fate that led to Robert Mugabe’s downfall.
Tragically, Grace Marufu, a young married woman with an ambition almost as huge as her undoubted sexual appeal, entered his life in the late 1980s.
While Bona Mugabe and Sally Hayfron did everything they could to curb a dangerous streak of violence in the man they both loved – Grace Mugabe did everything she could to set it free.
What went wrong? We’re in for a few million words about that.
What turned the man seen in 1980 as a Messiah into a Monster?
It’s important to recall the early days when no-one saw him as an African equivalent of Rumania’s Nicolae Ceauescu.
“There was a time in my life,” said MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai,”when I would have died for him.
I first heard about Robert Mugabe in Lusaka in 1974 when I worked as a journalist in Zambia.
“Mugabe is a genius,” the late James Chikerema told me in the run-down Indian-owned bicycle shop that was the headquarters of his tiny FROLIZI party in Cha Cha Cha Road, Lusaka. “There is no-one like him in terms of brain-power.”
When he came to power in 1980, I saw Lawrence Vambe (author of an Ill-fated People and From Rhodesia to Zimbabwe) weep tears of joy.
He said:” I believe that Robert is a storehouse of all the best that is in our culture.”
Today, his view is different but he recalls the optimism in the air in 1980. “Those days were full of hope. And most of us respected Sally as much as we respected Mugabe. They were like a breath of fresh air. We knew Robert had a wild streak in him but at that time we thought – ‘Ah, well. Sally will rein him in.’ “
When Gukuruhundi broke out in 1982, Mugabe and the man who will take over from him, Emmerson Mnangagwa, used everything in their power to slaughter upwards of 20,000 men, women and children in Matabeleland.
Mugabe is full of contradictions.
An abiding image is him at the Harare Sports Club. With a desperately ill wife at home, in the care of a doctor flown in from Britain, Mugabe took time off from organizing massacres in Matabeleland to watch cricket. He’d balance a cup of tea on his knee and chat with white farmers he was years later to throw off the land. He said he wanted young Zimbabweans to play cricket because it taught them how to be gentlemen.
Born at Kutama in 1924 Mugabe grew up without the influence of a father. Gabriel, a carpenter, left the family in the lurch. Robert never mentioned him again; neither did his brothers or sisters.
It must have been hard to keep feet on the ground when your dad’s a carpenter and your single mum thinks you’re the son of God.
He was close to his mother who saw in young Robert the fulfilment of her own hard life. She lost her eldest son in mysterious circumstances after he ate poisoned corn on mission premises. He was everything Robert was not – tall, good looking and popular with the local girls.
When he died, the full weight of Bona Mugabe’s love descended on Robert. She wanted him to be ordained a Catholic priest. He resisted and instead became a teacher – a good one, too.
James Chikerema was also educated at Kutama Mission.
He told me that before Robert left for Fort Hare University in South Africa, Bona gave him a Bible and told him to read part of it every day.
Said Chikerema:”She told him she had no money to give him. Only love. She said Jesus best loved poor people and she told him how hard it is for rich people to pass through the eye of a needle.”
In Ghana, Robert met Sally.
It was love at second sight for this well-educated upper middle class African girl. She was attracted more to his mind than his body and he was attracted to her intellect and outstanding looks. He also admired her commitment to the Roman Catholic Crutch. “Come along Robert, she would say to him. “ You can do that.” Those close to Mugabe said she was fully aware of the dictatorial streak that ran like a poisonous thread through this quiet, unassuming man’s make-up.
“Sally had all the qualities I lacked” Mugabe told journalists at State House during one of that moment he allowed the veil to drop. “But then again, I had some of the qualities she lacked.”
No-one in that room knew Sally was dying. It was mid- 1991 and she was spending most of her time on a kidney machine. The longer years by his side were drawing to an end.
None of us knew that as she was dying, Robert Mugabe was conducting an affair with a typist working at his office. Grace Marufu, a South African posing as a native Zimbabwean. She was married. Grace and Robert had two children, a girl called Bona (after his mother) and a boy (named after himself) Robert.
Those who knew Sally now say she knew Robert was having an affair with Grace and don’t mind. But she could not give him a child after the tragic death of her son from malaria in Ghana in 1966.
That Robert Mugabe loved Sally is beyond doubt.
In a mood of utter despair after Sally’s death in January 1992 Mugabe told Lawrence Vambe: “Sometimes I turn out the light and no longer wish to live.”
But he did.
After forty days of mourning he flew to Ireland and stayed at the home of newspaper tycoon Tony O’Reilly, a fellow Roman Catholic. It was there that he told O’Reilly that next time he was in Harare he’d be introduced to Mugabe next wife, Grace.
Trouble is, she was still married to a pilot with Air Zimbabwe, Stanley Goreraza.
But that was but a hiccup of a problem easily solved. The couple divorced and the former husband was given a well-paid job as defense attaché at the Zimbabwe Embassy in Beijing.
A joke went round Harare. It said that Robert had read the Bible his mother gave him too closely and picked up on how King David dealt with Uriah the Hittite, husband of Bathsheba who the Jewish king took a bit of a liking to after spotting her having showed naked on a rooftop in Jerusalem.
Hubbie was sent off to do a bit of front line fighting and was never heard of again.
Grace was young enough to be Robert’s grand-daughter when they married in August 1996.
Twenty thousand people, including Nelson Mandela, attended the wedding at Kutama Mission.
It cost millions. The Roman Catholic Archbishop Patrick Chakaipa (a close friend of Mugabe) officiated.
Grace said she didn’t the slightest interest in politics and the children would be kept out of the spotlight because Robert and Sally wanted them to live normal lives – no special privileges for them.
Journalist Lupi Mushayakarara raised eyebrows the week after Zimbabwe’s Showbiz wedding. “Now rumours about Mugabe’s impotence will end,” she said in a column.
Robert Mugabe was an unknown quantity at Independence almost 38 years ago.
Sally gave him a human face.
Today, there is little left that reminds us Robert Mugabe was once a heroic human being.
He has betrayed millions of people and although he fades away, for the time being, in disgrace the woman who caused his downfall has not been seen for over a week.
The story of their greed and plundering will probably never be told. Too many people – now posing as liberators ushering in a new age for Zimbabweans – were involved in the scramble for riches, including Emmerson Mnangagwa and the generals who launched last week’s military intervention.
Presumably, Grace is still around. For how long, is anyone’s guess.