November 16, 2017 12:34 pm
Updated: November 16, 2017 2:47 pm

Who is ‘Gucci Grace’ Mugabe? The first lady at the centre of Zimbabwe’s unrest

WATCH ABOVE: Zimbabwe army says it has taken power, Mugabe 'safe and sound'

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The political landscape in Zimbabwe is unpredictable, and potentially dangerous, after the country faced a military takeover.

The African country is now in the army’s control, who are urging President Robert Mugabe to give up his position.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s wife Grace Mugabe looks on during a national church interface rally in Harare, Zimbabwe, Nov. 5, 2017.

Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters

At the centre of the political crisis is the Mugabe family — particularly the first lady, Grace Mugabe.

Who is Grace Mugabe?

The 52-year-old first lady met the president years ago as a secretary in his office. She had an affair with Mugabe and married him in 1996, after his first wife died.

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The controversial figure has been a fierce defender of her 93-year-old ailing husband. She recently said he could run as a “corpse” in next year’s election and still remain leader. The president has led the country since its independence from Britain in 1980.

The first lady is not widely popular in Zimbabwe, largely because of her lavish lifestyle in a country that suffers economically. She’s been nicknamed Gucci Grace for her shopping habits.

However, she has built a following among the youth wing of ruling party, ZANU-PF.

READ MORE: Canadians in Zimbabwe urged to remain indoors as political crisis intensifies

Many controversies 

Assault allegations

There was widespread outrage earlier this year when a South African model accused Grace Mugabe of whipping her with an extension cord in a Johannesburg hotel room. Grace Mugabe was granted diplomatic immunity by South Africa despite calls for her prosecution. She later accused the 20-year-old of being the aggressor.

READ MORE: What’s next for President Robert Mugabe and country’s political crisis

Money habits

While she often displays her charitable side, talking about how she takes care of orphans, Mugabe also faces criticism for lavish personal spending.

Last month, the first lady approached a court to recover over $1 million she said she paid to a Lebanese businessman for a 100-carat diamond ring. Such actions have frustrated many in the once-prosperous southern African nation whose economy has fallen apart in recent years.

WATCH: Armoured vehicles seen near Zimbabwe’s capitol, military denies takeover

Alleged poisoning attempt

Grace was accused of trying to poison her husband’s rival and former vice president of Zimbabwe. The rumours emerged after Emmerson Mnangagwa became ill after a rally in August and had to be airlifted to hospital.

According to The Guardian, the first lady called the rumours “nonsensical.”

What’s happening in Zimbabwe?

President Robert Mugabe has insisted he is Zimbabwe‘s only legitimate ruler, and is refusing to quit in the wake of the military’s takeover.

But pressure is mounting on him to accept offers of a graceful exit. The president is currently confined to his house by military. There’s speculation that Grace may be anywhere from Botswana to Dubai, or even still in the country.

READ MORE: Zimbabwe military deny takeover, says President Robert Mugabe safe

The army appears to want Mugabe to transfer power to Mnangagwa, who he fired last week triggering the political crisis.

The main goal of the generals, according to Reuters, is to prevent Mugabe from handing power to his wife.

President Robert Mugabe listens to his wife Grace Mugabe at a rally of his ruling ZANU(PF) party in Harare, Zimbabwe, Nov. 8, 2017.

Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters

Grace Mugabe’s political aspirations

In July, the first lady openly told her husband to choose a successor, saying it would “enable all members to rally behind one candidate.”

With Mnangagwa’s firing, some ruling party officials have openly advocated for the first lady to take his place.

READ MORE: Uncertainty reigns over Zimbabwe as Robert Mugabe urged to go peacefully

“The only person possessing such qualities is the leader of the women’s league, none other than her excellency Dr. Grace Mugabe,” youth league leader Kudzai Chipanga told reporters.

WATCH: Trudeau condemns appointment of Mugabe as WHO ambassador

But many don’t want her in power.

“The people of Zimbabwe elected Robert Mugabe as president, not Grace Mugabe. The military are there to restore law and order,” Temba Mliswa, an independent member of parliament, said recently according to Al Jazeera.

— With files from the Associated Press, Reuters

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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