To his political foes and western critics he is a cold-hearted tyrant blamed for bloodshed and national decline. To his wife, however, Robert Mugabe is a supportive, God-fearing family man who is never without his rosary.
Grace Mugabe said at the opening of a children's home, the state-owned Sunday Mail newspaper reported, when she told the love story of Africa's oldest leader.
"I was very young when I started living with President Mugabe, but he was patient with me and took time to groom me into the woman that I am now," said Grace (47), who is four decades his junior.
"Some of you see me doing all this charity work and reckon that it is all my thinking and doing, but that is not the case. VaMugabe is very supportive of women because he knows kuti musha mukadzi [a woman makes a home]," she added.
"He supports me in everything I do unlike other men who do not encourage their wives' entrepreneurial skills because they always want to feel superior by being the breadwinners and having women ask them for money every time."
'He chose me, a village girl'
Grace was married to an air force pilot when she became Mugabe's secretary, then his mistress, while the president's Ghanaian first wife, Sally, was dying from cancer.
After getting divorced, she married Mugabe in 1996 in a Catholic mass hailed by local media as the "wedding of the century". He was 73 when she gave birth to their third child.
"Every day, I make it a point to thank VaMugabe for making me the first lady of Zimbabwe," Grace said in the speech last week. "There are a lot of beautiful women in Zimbabwe, but he chose me, a village girl, and made me his wife.
"After I got into state house, I said to God: 'Father I did not grow up in a fancy house, but I want to make sure that I provide such facilities to children who have been orphaned'. That is when I told the president about my dream to set up a children's home and he has been very supportive from day one."
Learning from the president
Mugabe (88) is striving to groom their sons into "fine gentlemen" just like their father, the first lady says.
"They might be members of the family, but my sons cook meals for the family. I have one daughter, so I realised that the workload of household chores would suffocate me and decided to come up with a plan that sees them cook for the family regularly.
"I must say they are good at it. Making them cook even when the family has helpers is my way of making them appreciate life and prepare them to be husbands who appreciate their wives."
There was reportedly enthusiastic applause at the Midlands Children's Home in Gweru when Grace added: "As women, we teach men almost everything, including how to dress, but it seems we have not done much in teaching them that they can also cook and help with household duties."
Mugabe was raised a Roman Catholic and attended the elite mission school Kutama College, where he was mentored by an Irish priest. Grace claimed faith was still central to his life.
The role religion plays
"He has the ability to remain calm even when everything appears to be going wrong. I believe that calmness is divine because my husband is very religious. He prays the Catholic way and always moves with his rosary in his pocket … Even when he changes clothes he makes sure that rosary is in his pocket."
The first lady added: "It is something he was taught by his mother and he still practices it up to this day. His mother taught him that protection comes from God and that is the reason why he always takes principled and God-fearing positions even when everyone is on the other side."
Grace is infamous for lavish overseas shopping trips and launched her own dairy products earlier this year. In a separate report at the weekend, she was quoted as saying that their 19-year-old son, Robert Jr., had been forced to abandon his dream of playing professional basketball in America because of US sanctions. – The Guardian