In the apt metaphor of Monopoly, just last week in Harare, renowned luxury shopaholic and former Zimbabwean first lady Grace Mugabe, 52, and her husband, deposed former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, 93, received the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card in the form of a generous state pension-for-life, paid-for servants, vehicles, a capacious five-bedroom house in addition to their private properties studded around the country.
Not least, the Mugabes also received immunity from prosecution for any crimes they may have committed along the way as they assembled their estimated $1-billion fortune in running Zimbabwe’s kleptocracy for the last thirty years. If we can say that the other shoe has now dropped for the eagle-eyed Mrs. Mugabe, we can now add that that shoe is definitely one of her preferred Ferragamos.
Exiting Mrs. Mugabe’s impressive closets for a moment, arguably the couple’s larger accomplishment in the negotiations since their ‘soft’-yet-abrupt defenestration by the army on November 9th is that they seem to have been able to hang onto their vast portfolio of houses, farms, and bank accounts from Zimbabwe to Switzerland and Singapore. As part of their – to the outside world – inexplicably luxurious pension plan, the couple is also afforded first class travel within Zimbabwe and four international trips per year.
Bluntly put, “Gucci” Grace Mugabe, as she was derisively called by Zimbabweans well aware of her wholesale appropriations of property, can keep on shopping.
What happened last week was that a list of provisions for the retirement benefits for every future ex-president of Zimbabwe was gazetted, which is to say, published in a government circular much as the proceedings on Capitol Hill are routinely published. Unstated in the circular is that there is only one ex-president of Zimbabwe. Although it’s excruciatingly clear from the architecture of the document that the negotiations were meant to benefit insulate the life of that one, immediate ex-president, his wife and children, we can also posit that current Zimbabwean president Emmerson Mnangagwa was writing his own pension plan with the document.
Western European and American politicians and CEOs might well stare in wonder at the survival of the Mugabes and that of their untouched fortune. The Muammar Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein families did not make out so well. In the history of totalitarianism, the fruits of skimming and wholesale confiscation are often re-confiscated at speed, as this or that dictator crumbles. But there is a kind of wacky logic at work in Zimbabwe that has to do with the Mugabes’ special personality cult, and with the codification of the sacred Zimbabwean Revolution – aka, the country’s transition in 1987 from colonial rule to a slightly more self-determined kleptocracy.
The Mugabes’ survival drill in the last few weeks was composed of this. Very much in the model of North Korea’s Kim family, Robert Mugabe, never, for a second, relinquished his role as the revolutionary godfather. If anything, he styled himself as the godhead, and he brought along a vast political party apparatus and government with him. President Mnangagwa and the brand-new first vice-president and former Army chief Constantino Chiwenga – the two architects of the Mugabes’ overthrow – had very much come along as part of the old semi-religious revolutionary cult. But. To have de-valued Mugabe in his dotage, post-coup, would have meant that they were devaluing their own demi-religious revolutionary cult. They couldn’t do that. They had to institutionalize the “goodness” of their history by not punishing the kleptocrat who became its despot.
As for the peripatetic, fashion-obsessed former First Shopper, whether Grace Mugabe heads to her property in Singapore, or to Switzerland, or to her old commercial stomping grounds in Paris and Rome, her upcoming four annual international trips to be paid for by the Zimbabwean government will be most interesting. Serving dictators are welcome at all kinds of social or political events, whether or not accompanied by a certain gritting of teeth. Deposed ex-dictators don’t have that sort of social reach, mainly, of course, because they’ve been caught out. And it’s that caught-out-ness that is the embarrassment for certain hosts.
Fashion4Development, the charity organization behind the annual September awards luncheon during United Nations week, which Grace Mugabe blithely attended just weeks before she was deposed, will likely not be extending her a First-Lady-emeritus invitation for the fixture in September 2018. And the Mugabes can look forward to the inevitability that certain countries may decide that they just plain bring too much bad political freight with them.
But aside from those bumps in the road, and the slow constriction of her international social circle, Mrs. Mugabe should remain be a welcome presence at luxury venues around the globe. She did, in fact, do that one tough thing. But that tough thing was not in amassing her fortune. For a Mugabe, in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, that part was dead easy. It just meant walking up to the trough, and helping yourself.
By contrast, the tough thing that Grace Mugabe did was more recent. It was that she held onto the money.—Forbes