Former president Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace after a press conference at his Blue Roof residence. File picture: Matthews Baloyi/African News Agency (ANA)

Harare - Robert Mugabe has changed his mind - again. 

Last month, he said he never trusted Emmerson Mnangagwa for the 54 years they worked together. He said he had backed opposition leader Nelson Chamisa in the elections. Now, he and his wife Grace are all over him and say President Mnangagwa’s narrow victory at the polls was backed by God. 

The couple said this after Mnangagwa hired a massively expensive air charter - that may have cost about R10 million - to bring Grace Mugabe back to Zimbabwe from Singapore where she had been undergoing medical treatment. 

Mnangagwa hired the aircraft, a Gulf Stream 650 according to the Mugabes, because the former first lady’s mother had died. 

It was Grace Mugabe who finally tipped the balance last year and nudged her husband into sacking Mnangagwa from his vice president’s post. She mocked Mnangagwa, ridiculed him, in front of him at rallies around the country, trying to ensure that her husband would remain in power until 2023. Some believed she wanted the top job, although this was always denied by Mugabe. 

Since being pushed from power in a soft coup d’etat, the Mugabes were complaining, not least because their income had been cut. They claim that they cannot afford to fix the roof of their massive three-storey,  Chi-nee-styled mansion in northern Harare. It is the biggest privately-owned home in central Africa. 

Robert Mugabe, when previously married to his late wife Sally, maintained since before independence that he was a socialist. 

Many analysts noted that his lifestyle since marrying Grace and producing three children, became comparable with the excesses of the former Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (Democratic Republic of Congo)  and Equatorial Guinea which has regularly helped finance the former first couple. His two sons' lifestyle and spending habits in Johannesburg were excessive according to many Zanu-PF insiders. But that seems to have stopped. 

The Mugabes, particularly Grace, seized more white-owned farms than any other person or group in Zimbabwe since the land grab began in 2000.

The state also funded many of the farms for several years and ran them for the family. 

Grace Mugabe spent millions on building houses and expensive private schools and the couple used to travel in Zimbabwe’s only international aircraft for regular jaunts to Dubai and Singapore, where they holidayed. If that Air Zimbabwe 767 aircraft was not available, they use to hire international carriers. 

Mugabe bankrupted Zimbabwe, particularly since he grabbed productive farms after the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, emerged in 1999 and went on to nearly beat Zanu-PF at elections the following year. 

Robert Mugabe said in an interview at his home in Harare a day before the July 30 elections, that he never trusted Mnangagwa although the two men were together for so long. 

Now it seems all has changed. 

“We are starting to feel anxious about Mnangagwa. He is spending money Zimbabwe doesn’t have. He has spent a fortune on vehicles for his associates, war veterans, traditional leaders and others. 

"His next test is the appointment of his cabinet. If it is not smaller and if he reappoints some of the incompetents who have bankrupted Zimbabwe over decades, then he is finished in so far as many of us are concerned. We gave him a lot of support before elections,” said a major Harare businessman who asked not to be identified. “A few weeks ago, I would have given you my name. Now I am nervous, many of us are nervous again,” he said.  

This week, it emerged that Violet Gonda, born in Zimbabwe and who is a well-known journalist within Zimbabwe as she was long involved in radio stations which operated out of London and Washington because Zimbabwe’s electronic media was wholly controlled by Zanu-PF, has been refused a passport. 

She left Zimbabwe nearly 20 years ago and returned home after the coup d’etat and has now gone to the Harare High Court to challenge the state for refusing her a passport. She was told she was on a list of “banned” people who have lost their citizenship.

Mnangagwa also has problems about a commission of inquiry that he appointed to investigate violence in Harare on August 1, during a violent demonstration,  when soldiers opened fire and six people died. According to legal think tank, Veritas, the commission, headed up by prominent South African politician,  Kgalema Motlanthe, was illegally established. 

Independent Foreign Service