By Alex Bell
17 October 2011
Confidential diplomatic cables released by the whistle-blowing group WikiLeaks have revealed the extent of Grace Mugabe’s control over her ailing husband.
Grace is often referred to as ‘Dis-Grace’ and the ‘First Shopper’ of Zimbabwe, but her influence over Mugabe has previously been dismissed. In 2007 a cable from the US Embassy in Harare said Grace’s “primary personal interest appears to be shopping.”
The cable, answering questions from the US government about Mugabe’s wife, said: “We believe Grace has little or no political influence over her husband. She is concerned about her children and would seek to influence the president to act in ways that would benefit or protect them.”
But according to a more recent cable sent from the Harare Embassy to the US State Department in 2009, Grace’s influence should be taken more seriously. The cable was written by US Ambassador Charles Ray after a meeting with his Norwegian counterpart, Gunnar Foreland. Foreland apparently said that “many don’t appreciate the role played by Grace Mugabe.”
“She acts as a kind of gatekeeper, often controlling who sees him, and what information gets to him. In this, she is assisted by (Gideon) Gono who acts as Mugabe’s bag man and who has played a critical role in most of Grace’s ‘businesses’,” Ray wrote after his meeting with Foreland.
Another WikiLeaks cable has also exposed that Gono in turn has Grace’s ear. In 2006, the then US Ambassador Christopher Dell wrote in a diplomatic cable that Gono had told him “that Mugabe’s wife had confided to him that the President was ‘out of it’ about 75 percent of the time and she wanted him to step down.”