Editorial: DisGrace – and a diplomacy one too

It’s like Game of Thrones – without the dignity. The hit TV series has a lot of aristocrats perpetuating various forms of violence upon one another, besides its concerns about ice zombies and so on, and it is entertaining because it has a fast-moving narrative filled with shock events and is swathed in high production values.

The ancient history look gives Game of Thrones its dignity, which is what Grace Mugabe lacked in the little fit of aristocratic violence reported this week. She might go on about protecting her sons from malign influences to justify lashing someone with a power cable, and might be able to dodge an actual arrest in South Africa, but nothing in the incident and what followed leaves Zimbabwe’s first lady with any shine at all.

There are many questions, few of which have been answered. Was she arrested, as Minister of Police Fikile Mbalula tweeted, or not? The minister had apparently been misinformed by his own officers. As the Mail & Guardian goes to press, there is news from the police ministry that the first lady cannot be arrested unless instruction is received from the department of international relations and co-operation, some confusion about whether she might have a diplomatic passport, and a declaration from Mbalula (always quick to make a dramatic statement) that there was a “red alert” out at South Africa’s borders for the errant first lady. Is she now on the run somewhere in South Africa? Or will she be rescued by her husband, who is said in some reports to be on his way to this country for a summit meeting?

It’s almost as entertaining as Game of Thrones, except for the sordid aspect. And the fact that it reveals a great deal of bumbling and mis-speaking on the part of South Africa’s authorities adds embarrassment to the sordidness. And now there’s a diplomatic incident looming, possibly more to-and fro as the imperious first lady of Zimbabwe tries to wriggle out of being charged with any offence under South African law. She failed to appear in court, as apparently agreed with the police, and was said to have “elected to change her mind” about the initial warning statement.

Mugabe may think she’s an aristocrat, some kind of divinely appointed queen, who, like the aristocracy of the Middle Ages (or the TV show) could do whatever they liked – kill people out of hand, sentence people to horrible punishments, spend the national treasury on personal luxuries and so on. But Mugabe isn’t a queen; she lives in what purports to be a democracy, for one thing, and if she does think she’s a queen she is seriously exposing that claim as a lie. She is in a position of power and thus wealth because she married an ancient despot, not for any other reason. Her personal qualities have not exactly revealed themselves to be those of a true leader, whatever her 93-year-old husband may think.


What this scandal has also revealed is that Mugabe’s sons clearly think they are aristocrats too, and above the law. They are spoilt princelings who have been all over the world – probably spending more time overseas than in Zimbabwe, in fact, before fetching up in one of Johannesburg’s wealthiest suburbs (where, it was also reported, Grace Mugabe has bought a R45-million house). They are not unlike the scions of other despots the world over who have grown rich and powerful, as their parents attempt to found dynasties to rule after them, just as the European aristocrats did in the Middle Ages, and as Jacob Zuma would very much like to do in South Africa.

Let us remember this as we laugh at the sordid shenanigans of those who think they are our kings and queens.

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