Last week we published the first part of the spontaneous wide-ranging interview our Deputy Editor, Nomsa Nkala, had with the First Lady, Amai Grace Mugabe. Excerpts of the interview focused on aspects of Amai Mugabe’s charity work, family life and background.
Today we publish the second and final part, which provides further insights into the life of the First Lady and her perspective on various critical issues, among them the country’s future, politics and her relationship with the President.
NN: What are your dreams and hopes for your children?
First Lady: I want to see them grow up to be responsible adults. And, of course, I want them to be well-educated and prepared for the future. We do not know what the future holds for them.
As I said, they must not rely on the present position; the present state of affairs. They should know that they are going to be on their own in future and they must work hard, knowing that they are going to have their own families.
If God is going to bless them with their own families, they must be in a position to give their families what we are giving them now. I have seen children in comfortable families growing up with an attitude that life is so good, easy, and they can get anything they want.
But my children know different and I do not just give them money. They do not keep money on themselves. I give them money as and when they need it, either US$10; US$5 or even US$2. You meet Robert today; he won’t be having any money on him . . .
We do not want them growing up thinking we have lots of money. No, we do not have lots of money, we work for it.
NN: They say behind every successful man is a woman. Do you contribute to the President’s office life?
First Lady: I think I am complementing what he is doing through the work that is being done here (Grace Mugabe Orphanage in Mazowe). I am complementing what the President has been doing over time. No one can equate what the President has done for this country no matter what is said in future. No one. Nobody.
He is one very humble person. He carries himself with a high degree of humility; a down-to-earth person . . . He is a caring and considerate man. He thinks about his people so much. You can see when he is talking to the people; he talks with emotion, with passion. He wants Zimbabweans to be high up there in terms of education, in terms of how they see themselves . . .
When he talks, you can see that he really has a vision for this country and he wants Zimbabweans to be in charge of their economy. He wants the people to be in charge of their God-given natural resources.
So, really, that is the way I support him. When he is campaigning, I go with him. Of course, because he is never at home, he comes home late; I have to make sure there is a balance between what I am doing for the nation and the family. That is my contribution. I say I am also a housewife.
I wonder sometimes because when some women are asked whether or not they work, they say they don’t. But you are at home looking after the children.
That is a job in itself and why should you say you don’t work? I personally feel women should mostly be at home looking after the children.
You bring up your children in your own way, in the way you want them to grow up. We have a tendency of just leaving our children with housemaids, yet the housemaid will never be you to them. You must play that role as a mother. When your children grow up they should be able to refer to the things that you were able to do together. My mum did that, just as I am doing now. I am proud, very proud.
I would always say my mother is my role model; I want to be like my mother. I saw my mother working and just by observing her, I saw the woman I wanted to become.
NN: Some say you are the “strong hand” behind most of the political decisions that the President makes; do you influence his decisions?
First Lady: Nonsense! That is nonsensical! He is a very intelligent man. Please! What you are telling me is that you underestimate my husband. As intelligent as he is, really? . . . Sometimes when I want to say something to him I am so scared because I know the answers that I am going to get . . . When he stands up, even at any moment, impromptu or not, if you say Mr President, make a speech, he will do it amazingly. So are you saying he carries a tape recorder inside his jacket so that he can listen to me first? . . . No, do not do this to the President.
That is what they always say. They say Mr Mugabe is a very old man, this and that, but the President is very sound and lucid. Very very sound, I am telling you; very energetic. He will not miss his morning exercise, seven days a week. Which other old man can do that at that age?
He is very lucky he inherited his mother’s genes. His mother, we think, when she died she was over 100 years old and she was very sound. She was never sick and the
President is not sick at all. They keep saying he is dying and he tells them that ‘I have beaten Jesus Christ’s resurrection because I have resurrected many times’.
NN: So, the rumours (on his health) are baseless?
First Lady: But you have seen him walking!
NN: When he went to Singapore, there were claims that he was in intensive care . . .
First Lady: I think that is the time he accompanied me to Singapore after I had injured my back in the gym.
NN: The President explained the injury, but there was a lot of speculation on whether it was an injury or illness . . .
First Lady: Do I look like a sick person? (laughs) I am not sick, not for now. But even if I were sick; I am human. We all get sick, get afflicted at some point in time in our lives . . . So, really, it is nothing to talk about. It is because of these detractors. They are so stupid to think that if Mugabe dies, then they would get back the land.
I do not understand this because Mugabe is not occupying all the land. There are Zimbabweans who are there on the farms, Zimbabweans who have been allocated these farms, and it is not Mugabe and his family . . . The land issue is an emotional issue to me because I know my parents were deprived of this land; their motherland. So you know what, they should not fool themselves. Sometimes they think like children . . . I do not quite understand them. They hope that one day all the Zimbabweans will move out of the land so that they move back in?
NN: Do your children share those same views (on land)?
First Lady: They love this farmland. They come here and they love it. They love their country. They are very patriotic — what do you expect? (smiles) Children practise what they grow up hearing. It’s like a song which is sung everyday. It sticks.
NN: With elections coming up, what role are you going to play?
First Lady: Helping with the campaigns, of course.
NN: What do you think the outcome will be?
First Lady: I cannot say. I am not a magician. (laughs)
NN: But you do have confidence in your party?
First Lady: Our party stands a better chance . . .Who would not want their party to win? I would want Zanu-PF to win, of course . . .
NN: Do you ever get anxious when the results are being announced and get worried about the outcome?
First Lady: You know what, it’s just like deciding to embark on a project. There are only two things to expect: failure or success. So unless you have done your groundwork properly and you are confident that you have really satisfied the needs of the people, it’s tricky. Politics is a tricky game.
NN: In the event of failure, what would your life be?
First Lady: Zanu-PF is not about one family. One thing you have to understand is that this country is not a monarchy. However, I do not think it will ever happen that Zanu-PF will lose this election. I don’t think it will — never.
NN: But are you prepared for such a scenario?
First Lady: That one is not an issue. Zanu-PF is the party that liberated this country and we must not forget that. There are many who fought for this country, including us who did not go to war, but were supporting it. When we had the first elections in which indigenous Zimbabweans participated, I voted . . . So, you can see where the patriotism started. The same kind of passion I had for my country then is 20-fold now. I do not think Zanu-PF will ever lose the elections. There is a saying that: ‘You cannot fool all the people all the time’, our detractors came and tried to fool the people, but they cannot fool them all of the time.
NN: In 2008, we saw you campaigning, going to some rallies. What prompted that?
First Lady: Ahh . . . nyika yanga yaakuendaka (The country was almost overrun by the enemy). I decided that you cannot watch things taking a direction you had not anticipated. I felt I should also play my part as a citizen of this country.
Of course, a lot of people started saying a lot of things, putting words into my mouth. Some came to me asking if I was planning to be the next President of this country. I said to them if I just go out campaigning, am I campaigning for myself to become President?
Well and good if that’s the case. I went on to ask them if there was anything wrong if the people one day decided that they wanted me to be the President of this country . . . So, really, some people took it that way, that I wanted to be a politician and that’s why I was campaigning.
I was just doing it because I realised that I had a duty to make the people understand that whatever they were being promised (by the opposition and their backers) they were being fooled and all this vilification, especially of the First Family, is because of the land reform programme.
I would not just sit by and watch the country going to the dogs. I will still do the same if I feel that the people need to be spoken to. I feel that it is my duty as a Zimbabwean to talk to the people; to make them understand.
It is not that I am not able to engage in politics, no. I also have the capacity for that, but it is a question of choosing the area in which you want to be engaged in. Not that I am foolish. Some say because I do charity work I am foolish. No! There is division of labour. That is why you find in universities and colleges there are various disciplines so that people are taught in various areas.
When we work for the country we complement each other. What I am doing is complementing what others are doing.
We cannot all do charity work. Who would engage in mining and other areas if that were the case? I am not saying I want to take part in politics, but for people to confront me and say I want to run for President just because I am campaigning for my party is wrong. Who has the right, more than me, to talk about my country? I am also a Zimbabwean and it is my right to talk about my country, to defend it.
I must be a patriotic Zimbabwean. That is the more reason I work for this country and that is why I am working here (orphanage). As I said before, this is my stage where I have a role to play. I have to defend my country as well, as much as everybody else who is doing the same.
NN: So do you think at some stage you will get into politics, actively?
First Lady: Not quite. I have not anticipated that. But supporting my party: there are no two ways about it. I support my party 100 percent.
NN: And your children, are they interested in politics?
First Lady: I don’t know. They are still young. But Bellarmine says he wants to be a politician without any fear at all and he knows what he wants. He is a very funny boy and quite outgoing. He likes talking politics with his father, asking questions.
NN: Who would you say he takes after, more of the father?
First Lady: Probably, both. They (the children) have both the President’s traits and mine. Sometimes, at this stage, you cannot really tell. Let’s give them time . . .
NN: How is your relationship with the President, as husband and wife?
First Lady: Very close. We are very very close. We talk a lot. Zvinonzi zviuya hazviwanane, but we are very unique people. He is one man who is very clean. I am telling you; he is very clean and I always say thank you God for giving me such a clean man besides the fact that he is very intelligent and he is not a lazy person . . . I am somebody with an inquisitive mind and every time you ask him something, he is willing to articulate on that subject, expand on it. It does not matter what time of the day it is. You can ask him, he will make time for you. He is a very wonderful man. He will not say ‘I am too tired or I have a lot of work to do’. He will never say that. I remember just two weeks ago, he had just arrived from a trip. It was late at night and I was writing something.
I said to him, ‘I want you to read this for me, please’. I told him ‘I know it’s late, but you have to read for me because I want to finish (the work) by morning’. So, he had to do it and he takes his time. He is very thorough. . . . If he is going to work on a speech, he could have a draft done, but he is going to work on it. Oh, yes, he is a different person.
NN: So, he helped you with your schooling?
First Lady: Unfortunately, he could not with this one (Chinese studies). (laughs) It was all Greek to him. (laughs)
NN: But for the children, does he make time to help them with their school work?
First Lady: He does, sometimes. When he has time, he tries to help them.
NN: Would you say you are friends, you and the President?
First Lady: Very much so. He is my best friend.
NN: You talk like a normal couple?
First Lady: Yes, we talk about a lot of different things, a lot. We shout at each other as well. That is normal; we are normal people. In a relationship you cannot say you will not anger each other. I would be lying. It would be a blatant lie if I said we do not fight. We do sometimes and then we talk and iron out our differences.
We are human beings. It’s only natural. There are things that he might do that I do not like and I tell him that. I also remind him that ‘I am the only person who can talk to you like this’ (laughs) and no one else. ‘I, only, can talk to you like this; you have to listen to me’. (laughs) . . . He is not the person who will say ‘listen to me because I am the President or even because of the age difference you must listen to me’. No, I am not his daughter, I am his wife. I am his companion in life.
NN: Do you ever get time away as a couple, romantic time?
First Lady: No. We go out, though, about three times a year on holiday with our children. We spend a lot of time together, we laugh. We laugh a lot, we joke with our children. We ensure we eat together everyday . . . We don’t eat much though, we have one meal a day . . .
NN: You have one meal a day, nothing in between?
First Lady: If I am hungry, I have an apple. An apple a day keeps the doctor away. I never have breakfast. I go to the gym and I drink water.
NN: Does the President have breakfast?
First Lady: He does, just a little bit of porridge and just a cup of tea and then he goes to work. He is a very particular man. He will not let himself grow out of proportion . . .
NN: Do you train together? Do you join him when he goes to the gym?
First Lady: He does not use gym equipment. He tells me that when they were in prison, they would just sit because they were political prisoners and political prisoners did not do any work. So, they would just sit and read. That was not good for them so they started doing stationary jogging and press-ups.
That is what he still does. I run on the treadmill.
NN: Is it because of pressure from the President that you have to exercise religiously?
First Lady: No. I have always wanted to look after myself; not carry too much weight . . .
NN: Being the First Lady must come with a lot of pressure.
First Lady: Indeed.
NN: How did you adapt?
First Lady: It depends on how you take it, on how you plan things. I suppose I am a very hard-working person, so I do not find it that hard.
NN: How was it in the early days?
First Lady: It was the same because I have always been hardworking. My husband can tell you that . . . He would say I am a man-woman . . . I only sleep for five hours a day.
NN: What do you do on a normal day with your family?
First Lady: They like my cooking. I love cooking. In fact, we do not employ cooks from hotels. Yes, we may have a few, but I would have to train them on the way I want our food to be prepared. I am very particular.
NN: What does the President like eating?
First Lady: He likes eating anything I cook, anything. I have also taught my children to learn to eat anything. The traditional foods we sometimes cook; they say sadza remavhu, that is rapoko sadza because it looks like sand and muboora. I grow my own vegetables at home, organic . . . I grow everything there: munyemba, cowpeas, tomatoes, sweet cabbages and sweet potatoes; everything.
We also eat a lot of hot food. It is very good. It has medicinal properties, they say. . .
NN: Who shops for the President? His clothes. . .
First Lady: He does but I buy a lot for him as well . . . I do not choose clothes for him though; he did not marry me to be his butler, no.
NN: So, he decides what to wear everyday?
First Lady: Yes. He is very organised. Before he goes to bed at night, he will open his wardrobe, look for the matching tie and all. Everyday he chooses his clothes unless if it’s a special occasion then I dictate to him. I tell him that this is what you are going to wear. (He then responds) ‘Okay Amai, okay’. (laughs)
NN: Some women usually develop a passion for a particular accessory — shoes, etc. What would you say you have a weakness for?
First Lady: Nothing really, I just balance things. What I really like doing is sit down and design my own outfits. You can see the way I tie my headgear . . . I also like to keep things natural. I do not like hair extensions that people wear these days. My daughter once had them on and I told her to remove them . . . I am very natural. I would rather have my locks . . . So the President says, ‘How can you do that? How can you wear Bob Marley’s hairstyle? Why don’t you wear Bob Mugabe’s hairstyle?’(laughs) So, I said to him: you want me to cut my hair short? No.
NN: Moving on to your businesses. What kind of businesses are you involved in, tell us more about them?
First Lady: Which ones? (laughs)
NN: Well, there have been claims that you have some Asian business associates . . .
First Lady: My husband and I are more into agriculture. We are farmers . . . we are running a dairy. It is a very complicated business; running a dairy. It is not easy, really, but I have had to work hard on it. We put up a new (dairy cow milking) parlour, which is probably the second largest in the region. I am told there is a bigger one in South Africa in terms of the number of points for milking each cow. The one in South Africa has 84 milking points while ours has 64 clusters. We have now gone on to add value to our milk . . . We also have a lot of beef cattle. We have about 2 000 head of cattle. That is what we do, really, and nothing more. Yes, I intend to do other things, especially to support my charity projects, but I cannot talk about something that is not in existence yet . . .
NN: Are you a religious family?
First Lady: Very much so. I am Catholic by virtue of having married a Catholic. I am more Pentecostal, although my parents were part of the John Wesley Assembly. I grew up later as a Pentecostal.
NN: Your children read the Bible?
First Lady: Yes, they do. I try to teach them to memorise some of the verses. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want . . .
NN: What do you do for fun, do you like music?
First Lady: I love music; I can dance, too. Not only that, I have also learnt to play some Chinese instruments . . . I will play them for you, one day . . .
NN: What is your favourite music?
First Lady: Any type of music as long it’s good music. But it is mostly Gospel music . . . I buy CDs to play in my car when I’m driving.
NN: You drive yourself?
First Lady: A lot. Almost everyday; it’s just that these days I am busy; I am thinking (intensely). I don’t want to drive when I have a lot on my mind otherwise you get distracted.
NN: What are your hopes for this country?
First Lady: Zimbabwe is endowed with a lot of natural resources. As the President has always been encouraging development, I envisage a Zimbabwe with robust infrastructure. The human resources side has problems. I know Zimbabweans are very academic to the extent that we all want to be academics and we tend to neglect the skills’ training side. But we need to have a section of the country that is able to do work like construction, carpentry, designing, etc.
I think we import a lot of goods because we are lacking in the area of skills training. One of the things I want to do is ensure that I put up a skills training centre here (Mazowe) . . .That does not mean I will have many people trained here but I will try in my own small way to contribute to the development of that area.
We cannot all go into universities. Some people should be able to go into industry . . . I want to see more happen in that area so that when we talk of employment, we just don’t talk about looking for jobs but creating jobs as well . . .
The capacity is there. People only need to be innovative. They must be creative, diligent. I think in 10 to 20 years’ time, this country will be much different.
NN: And the Zimbabwean woman?
First Lady: I would want to say to the Zimbabwean woman we have opportunities galore. Let’s take advantage of them. We must not just look at our male counterparts getting into different ventures.
Let’s establish ourselves and be in a position to help each other as women. What I see in Zimbabwean women is individualism. We must be able to interact, come together and share ideas. After all, we have had the opportunity to go to school, get an education as much as our male counterparts. I think most men are proud to say, ‘my wife is engaged in this or that’.
I have seen a lot of men who are proud of what their wives are doing, but they are only proud of you because they believe in you . . .
I know there are also women who don’t really like working, especially those who have well-to-do husbands . . . What happens to you if that man dies or marries somebody else? . . . I have never relaxed. I have done what most women are doing, going to the market, selling. I have never looked at myself as somebody married to a Head of State.
What I tell myself is in the event that my husband is incapacitated, I must be able to carry the family, fend for the family. So, this is what drives me. I don’t know what tomorrow holds for me and I would want the Zimbabwean women to do the same and not just sit, doing nails, being pampered. . . I never do that.
NN: So you do your own manicure?
First Lady: Yes, I just apply nail polish. . . I do everything on my own; laundry, ironing, etc . . . I prepare food on my own . . . The Bible says, ‘God fashioned man and saw that he needed a helper’. But people don’t understand the issue of the “helper”. . . You are supposed to be working together so that if the man dies or gets sick, you are able to fill that gap.
But I have seen a lot of women who are lazy, educated women who do nothing. There is a time to look after the children, yes. But let’s not take advantage of that and say it’s a full-time job.
The children will not always be with you. . . Start doing something for yourself. Ensure that you bring an income home too. You cannot just depend on one person.
NN: Are these the values you instill in your daughter?
First Lady: When she is around I talk to her. I talk to her; seriously. I want her to be like me; not exactly like me. She may not have the characteristics I have, but certainly I say to her if you just get even 50 percent of what I do, take it; use it.