Nearly five years after her fall from grace, the widow of former Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe maintains a low profile.
With no first-class shopping trips to Singapore and lavish birthdays to throw for her husband, family sources say Grace Marufu Ntombizodwa Mugabe keeps to herself in her Harare and rural homes.
The last time the 56-year-old was seen in public was February 21, dressed in black, as she joined mourners in the border town of Karoi for the burial of Sarah Mahoka – one of her allies when she tried her hand at politics.
Three years earlier, she had been filmed protesting the invasion of her farm in Mazowe, west of Harare.
Afterwards, Mrs Mugabe – nicknamed ‘Gucci Grace’ and ‘First Shopper’ for her love of pricey goodies and shopping in Western capitals – spent long periods in Singapore where she was being treated for an undisclosed illness.
Private and invisible, the once vocal aspiring politician has equally lost her voice in public affairs.
Today, the former Zanu-PF rabble-rouser is the proverbial “tigress” that lost the power behind the throne after the hunter speared the grand tiger.
And as an indication that things may get worse, the hunter is on her trail.
Beneath this collective family silence are undercurrents of two vicious court battles: the fight over the bones of Mugabe, and large tracts of land that authorities say were acquired illegally.
The land, running into thousands of hectares and formerly owned by White farmers, was mostly acquired during the controversial land reform and redistribution of the early 2000s.
Mrs Mugabe and her children are fighting to block the government from redistributing part of their vast farm east of Harare, which was also seized from a White Zimbabwean.
Her daughter Bona and son-in-law Simbarashe Chikoore have become a constant feature in the corridors of justice.
The two accuse the government of seizing sections of the property they were allocated in 2017 without considering their investments and how they are utilising the farm.
The government says the 1,804 hectares is beyond the stipulated maximum farm size that can be owned by a household.
In 2019, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said an audit revealed that Mrs Mugabe owned 16 farms, adding that the excess would be seized.
Using her moniker, the Zimbabwean ruler said: “I know of one lady, ‘Stop It!’, who has about 16 farms yet the law says one family one farm.”
Though the audit said land taken by top ruling party officials and government bureaucrats during the chaotic reforms was handed over to the president in December 2019, no action has been taken against the former first lady even as Mugabe’s ex-allies, including ministers, were targeted in 2020.
They include Jonathan Moyo, Saviour Kasukuwere and the strongman’s nephew Patrick Zhuwao, all of whom fled to exile after the military forced Mugabe to resign in 2017.
The former ministers were given eviction letters, with the government saying their farms were underutilised.
Mugabe’s sympathisers say the invasion of his farms and threats to impound them show President Mnangagwa’s administration is vindictive.
The family is also reeling under the sting of a court ruling that in September 2021 directed the exhumation of the patriarch’s remains for reburial at the national heroes’ shrine in the capital.
In May 2021, a traditional chief from Mugabe’s rural Zvimba home ordered that his remains be interred at the shrine in Harare, where the ruling elite and former fighters in Zimbabwe’s 1970s independence war are buried.
Chief Zvimba, born Stanley Urayayi Mhondoro, ordered Mrs Mugabe to pay five cows and two goats after finding her guilty of violating tradition by burying her husband in their rural home.
The former first lady was directed to facilitate the exhumation.
But the Mugabes refuse to barge, saying the former leader had expressed fears before his death that the people who ousted him would seek to conduct traditional rituals with some of his body parts if he is buried away from Zvimba.
“I buried my husband according to the instructions he left. Those who are pushing to exhume him can go ahead. We are watching you,” she said during the burial in Karoi on February 21.
Interest in the Mugabe family has been reignited by speculation that one of the sons of the country’s founding president, Robert Junior, could run for a top post in the ruling Zanu-PF party.
The Mugabe name had disappeared from Zimbabwe’s political scene until March 23, 2022 when Junior made a surprise appearance at a rally addressed by President Mnangagwa in Chitungwiza, a dormitory town on the outskirts of Harare.
The Mugabe scion was received like a prodigal son. He was immediately hauled to the stage to chant Zanu-PF slogans.
When his father’s successor made entrance to the rally, Junior was lined up along Several government ministers and top ruling party officials to shake his hand.
It was apparent that Zanu-PF had stumbled on a big catch, considering that in the 2018 elections, Mugabe Sr declared that he would not vote for his “tormentors”, throwing his weight behind opposition chief Nelson Chamisa instead.
Mnangagwa barely scraped through in the vote amid allegations of rigging.
The new leader performed dismally compared with his party and many cited Mugabe as a deciding factor in the election.
With the 2023 general election on the horizon, the ruling party will be desperate to have the former ruler’s loyalists, including his children, on its side.
Junior, a lanky sportsman who once made it on Zimbabwe’s national basketball team, said he was back at home in Zanu-PF “to continue my father’s legacy”.
“I thought I should come and support the party. It is like family tradition. The only party I have known is Zanu-PF,” he said.
“I am a child of Zanu-PF and have a Zanu-PF soul. It is only right that I continue the legacy.”
The Mugabe family downplayed Junior’s presence pronouncements at the rally, saying he did not have his mother’s blessings.
They said Junior succumbed to pressure by President Mnangagwa to be associated with the Mugabe legacy.
Robert Junior was lured to Mnangagwa’s side by Passion Java, a wealthy and controversial preacher.
The two have been criss-crossing the country campaigning for Mnangagwa’s re-election, mostly targeting young voters.
Pictures of the pair with President Mnangagwa in what appears to be his residence went viral on social media, dividing public opinion.
“Junior has always been rebellious, even when his father was alive,” said a relative who insisted on remaining anonymous.
“There is no chance his mother will reconcile with the current country and Zanu-PF leadership, given the way they treated her husband and reluctance to protect his property.”
Leo Mugabe, a spokesperson for the Mugabe family, said Zanu-PF would remain their party “even though the former president had issues with certain individuals”.
“I don’t think they are joining. They have always been members of Zanu-PF, so are all of us,” he said.
“Mugabe did not resign from the ruling party.”
In one of the rare interviews in which Mugabe spoke about his children, he said he did not believe Junior or his brother Chatunga would take after him.
His playful sons were not doing well at school, he said at the time.
‘Gucci Grace’ will, however, live comfortably even if the businesses Mugabe left collapse.
A post-coup law ensures she has a decent pension.
As a former first lady, she is entitled to a “Mercedes Benz E300 or one four-wheel drive station wagon or an equivalent or similar class of car and one pick-up,” the law passed in 2020 says, adding that the vehicles will be replaced every five years.
She also gets an entertainment allowance and two foreign trips every year.
Her employees are allocated a vehicle or vehicles deemed fit by the president.
She is entitled to two security officers, a driver, secretary, aide-de-camp, a furnished office, domestic worker, gardener and cook.
In 2018, Mugabe said he was given $467,000 in pension, not the $10 million widely reported.
He was also given two houses, including a mansion built for him by the Chinese.
The Harare mansion, famously known as Blue Roof, remains the Mugabes’ family home in the capital.