JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Zimbabwe’s longstanding government and ruling party mouthpiece, The Herald newspaper, has abruptly changed its tune on President Robert Mugabe’s wife Grace, confirmation of her political downfall.
The Herald often takes its marching orders from the information ministry. And it has always reported from the point of view of the winning faction in the ruling ZANU-PF, making it a reliable barometer of someone’s political standing.
In August, the paper ran a typically fawning portrait of Grace under the headline “A Loving Mother of the Nation.”
“Loving mother, compassionate philanthropist, astute businesswoman, perceptive politician, remarkable patriot, these are all adjectives that can be used to describe the First Lady Dr Grace Mugabe,” The Herald gushed.
Less than three months later and in the wake of a coup that threatens Mugabe’s presidency and has seen both he and Grace expelled from ZANU-PF, her Herald portrayal was starkly different.
“Grace Mugabe lacked grooming and true motherhood as shown by her foul language,” the paper quoted the ZANU-PF’s youth wing as saying.
“We take exception to the vulgar language which had become part of Mrs Mugabe’s vocabulary,” it quoted a Youth League cadre as saying.
Zimbabweans, many of whom are devoutly religious and culturally conservative, often take offense at profanities.
The piece featured an unflattering picture of an unsmiling Grace - a sharp departure from the “loving mother” portrayal that included photos of her smiling and holding infants.
Until the events of the past week, the political fortunes of Grace — dubbed “Gucci Grace” for her reputed fondness shopping sprees — were on the rise, if The Herald’s coverage was anything to go on.
In September 2014, the University of Zimbabwe awarded her a PHD — raising eyebrows as her academic prowess had previously been unknown. But in Zimbabwe, the path to power is paved with academic letters.
Weeks later, one Herald headline blared: “Dr Grace Mugabe honoured in song.” At the time, she was being shoe-horned into the top position in ZANU-PF’s Women’s League, and the song was entitled: “Dr G Mugabe For Women’s League Secretary.”
Just 12 days ago, paper was reporting that the Women’s League was backing Grace in her bid to become vice president. This was days after Mugabe sacked his deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa, clearing the path for Grace to assume the role and succeed her 93-year-old husband.
It was this tilt at power that triggered the army backlash.
Editing by James Macharia and Angus MacSwan