Did you know that Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe was gored by a goat when he left his limo to stretch the old legs when his motorcade stopped for fuel in Zimbabwe’s eastern highlands? That’s according to a 2005 report by a website called ZimDaily. He was on his way to a well-known gamblers’ retreat, the site said, to quench his “secret passion for gambling” away from prying eyes.
Or that he has cancer and his Malaysian urologist, Awang Kechik, had to leave his practice in Kuala Lumpur this year to settle in Harare so he could take good care of octogenarian leader’s prostate?
Speculating about the alleged misfortunes of their leader is a national pastime for Zimbabweans, indeed, a form of therapy, given Mugabe’s political resilience and horse-like constitution. Rumours swing from the barely believable to the outright hilarious.
That is why a sensational report claiming Zimbabwe’s first lady, Grace Mugabe, cheated on her husband with central bank chief Gideon Gono has hardly caused a ripple in Zimbabwe itself.
The story, published simultaneously by the South African and British Sunday Times newspapers, alleged Gono and Grace had had an affair for five years, romping in hotels in Malaysia, Cape Town, a South African house owned by retired air vice-marshal Robert Mhlanga and even on a farm owned by Grace.
News of the affair, the report said, was broken to Mugabe on July 26 this year by his dying sister, Sabina. Mugabe’s bodyguard, Cain Chademana, was present at the discussion but “mysteriously died — a matter of days later”. Having been fed a steady diet of seedy Bob stories for decades, Zimbabweans filed the latest in the “Mugabe rumour” section, had a laugh and waited for the next instalment.
The UK-based website, NewZimbabwe.com, run by anti-Mugabe elements, reported this week that Grace and Gono “are ready to go to war” over the report. “There is a major meeting planned for Wednesday which will be attended by lawyers and advisers to the president and Gono,” it quoted a source saying, claiming that a defamation suit is in the offing.
However, the Mail & Guardian understands that a decision has been taken not to sue, as it would require Mugabe, Grace and Gono to travel to South Africa or the UK to testify.
Fear of crackdown
A serious reaction has come from Zimbabwean journalists, who fear that the report could set off a press crackdown. The mainstream media ignored it; journalists working in the country know better than to speculate in that way about Mugabe.
Even the Sunday Times‘s Zimbabwe edition, ironically distributed by the state-owned Herald‘s parent company, did not carry the report.
Quoting an unnamed source, who said she had been in contact with Grace Mugabe and Gono since the story broke, NewZimbabwe.com said the report contained factual errors.
These included that Mugabe’s sister, Sabina, was reported to have spilled the beans to the president on a day when she was in a coma and Mugabe was in Uganda at an African Union summit. And, while Sally Mugabe, his first wife, was reported to have died in 1996, the year Mugabe married Grace, she had in fact died in 1992. And, Mugabe bodyguard Cain Chademana, reported to be a liberation war veteran, would have been six at the time of Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980.
A day after the story broke, an Australian newspaper reported that Gono had gone into hiding. This, presumably, would have been right after he kept an appointment with an International Monetary Fund delegation in Harare on Monday.
And on Tuesday, an “extremely upset” Grace Mugabe, according to the Telegraph, left the country for her Hong Kong palace. The trouble is that on that day, she was burying her sister’s husband at a funeral, at which Robert Mugabe delivered his standard rant against Western sanctions and white farmers.
If he was cuckolded by Gono, Mugabe has been extremely forgiving. Over the two years that he has shared power with Morgan Tsvangirai, he has resisted intense pressure from his coalition partner to ditch the reserve bank governor, who is widely blamed for printing money with gay abandon and triggering the collapse of the Zimbabwean currency.