The First Shopper’s fall from grace

Robert and Grace Mugabe © Getty images
Grace Mugabe: “the Lady Macbeth in the Zimbabwean soap opera”

Until a week ago Grace Mugabe was sitting pretty. The wife of the 93-year-old Zimbabwean despot Robert Mugabe, she was widely seen as his presumptive successor. Now, following his resignation as president, she has time to ponder her dramatic rise and fall. This began when “Grace, a young married woman who had secured a job in the president’s typing pool, found that the president kept sticking around to say hello”, says The Guardian’s Simon Allison.

Despite a four-decade age gap, and the fact that Robert Mugabe was also married to someone else when he first met her, the couple were eventually wed “in a lavish ceremony attended by 40,000 people”.

After the wedding Grace “played the role of quiescent wife, busying herself with some serious kleptocratic wealth accumulation”, says The Daily Telegraph’s Peter Godwin. This included “the construction, at great expense, of a huge presidential villa in 2003”, which was naturally dubbed “Graceland” by the locals.

She also “began to acquire farms and other property, luxury homes in Johannesburg and Hong Kong, where she sent her daughter to university”. She also went on frequent shopping trips abroad, returning “with trunks bulging with bling”. All these efforts earned her the nickname of “Gucci Grace”, and “the First Shopper”.

One particularly notorious spending spree was in 2002, when “during a trip to Paris, she was reported to have spent $120,000”, notes Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura in The New York Times. The situation got so bad that the European Union imposed sanctions on the Mugabes to “stop them from sucking wealth out of their country”.

This didn’t stop her from her embarking on further shopping sprees. She was “widely panned for having spent $1.4m on a diamond ring” and, when confronted with allegations of corruption, could only muster the lamest excuses, claiming it was impossible to have spent as much money as she was accused of doing.

As well as being a spendthrift, “the Lady Macbeth in the Zimbabwean soap opera” also had a “volcanic temper”. Indeed, “she once punched a photographer in Hong Kong with a diamond-encrusted fist” and was recently “whisked out of South Africa to avoid arrest after a fashion model accused her of beating her with an electrical cord”. Shortly before her fall, military leader Emmerson Mnangagwa, who has now succeeded her husband as president, accused her “of trying to kill him with poison-laced ice cream”. Characteristically she replied “Who is he? I am the wife of a president!”, words she may now regret.

Given all this extravagance, it’s ironic that her and her husband’s downfall seems to have been a result of making the schoolboy error of trying to cut costs too much. As any dictator will tell you, if you want to rule through fear, it’s never a good idea to shortchange the thugs and gangsters whose job it is to keep people frightened and your regime safe.

In the event, a failure to pay the army enough meant that “impoverished regular soldiers, needing to feed their families, cooperated with the plans of their senior officers for the coup that saw the first couple’s fall from grace”.

Tabloid money… the cult worship of the Mogster

• This week, I met a guy called Wayne at the Business Show in London, says Saira Khan in the Sunday Mirror. He is young, ambitious and wants to start his own business. The trouble was, he explained, there is so much bad advice out there – “how do you know who to listen to?” Hence the launch at the show of the new not-for-profit web platform, Start & Grow.

“It’s got real-life stories, tips and training from people who have been there and done it – built and sold businesses, in some cases for millions of pounds. And it’s free.” After all, we need “to ditch that British reserve and shout that striving to create wealth is a good thing”. And that goes for everyone. Not just the privileged few.

• “The cult worship of Jacob Rees-Mogg has reached its zenith,” says Adam Helliker in the Sunday Express. Georgia Toffolo, who is one of the current participants on reality television series I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!, has declared the “upright Member for North East Somerset” her “top celebrity crush”. The law graduate, known to her friends as Toff, is “an enthusiastic Tory”. Her advice to “the Mogster” if he wants to become prime minister would be “judicious use of social media” to win over the youth vote. She should know. Toffolo made a fortune from starring in popular television show Made In Chelsea.

• Pop-up internet adverts are really getting to me, says Fiona Phillips in the Daily Mirror. “Stop trying to line your bottomless pockets by trying to fleece mine… My head can’t take any more.” Remember when we could go for days not knowing what was going on in the world? Ignorance was bliss. Now there are plans to personalise TV ads – tailored to our age and gender. Well, “I’m already getting comfortable shoes and coach holiday catalogues through the letterbox, thanks”.