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Four charged for heckling Grace Mugabe at rally in Zimbabwe | World news

Four people have appeared in court in Zimbabwe on charges of undermining the authority of President Robert Mugabe after his wife was heckled while addressing a rally, a state-owned newspaper reported.

The Herald said the four were arrested after attending a ruling Zanu-PF party rally in the south-western city of Bulawayo where Grace Mugabe was jeered during a speech on Saturday.

Prosecutor Jerry Mutsindikwa told a magistrates court that “the quartet, with others allegedly sang the song Into Oyenzayo Siyayizonda” – whose lyrics in Ndebele mean “we hate what you are doing” – while Grace addressed the rally.

The accused are facing a charge of “undermining the authority of the president”, he said.

The incident angered President Mugabe, who spoke at the same rally shortly after his wife, accusing his deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa, of organising and sponsoring the hecklers.

He vowed to fire Mnangagwa, which he did two days later, in a move that appeared to open the way for his wife to succeed him in office.

Grace Mugabe could be appointed as one of the country’s two vice-presidents at the party congress next month.

Mnangagwa, who had been touted as an obvious successor to Mugabe, fled into exile this week. His whereabouts are unknown.

The arrest of the four Zanu-PF activists came as the Zimbabwe high court on Thursday granted bail to Martha O’Donovan, a 25-year-old American journalist charged with insulting Mugabe and attempting to subvert the regime on account of an alleged tweet that described the ageing leader as “selfish and sick”.

Background

Grace Mugabe is the 52-year-old first lady of Zimbabwe. Born in South Africa, she married Robert Mugabe, 40 years her senior, in 1996. Initially struggling to emerge from the shadows of the president’s popular first wife, Sally, who died in 1992, Mugabe appeared by her husband’s side for official functions but rarely got involved in politics herself, focusing publicly on her charity work while gaining a reputation for legendary shopping expeditions. 

Controversies

In 2009 a British photographer alleged that she punched him repeatedly in the face when he tried to take a picture of her in Hong Kong. She has since been implicated in several incidents outside Zimbabwe: in Singapore, in Malaysia and most recently in South Africa, where she allegedly assaulted a model in August. 

Political ambitions

The unveiling of Grace Mugabe as a potential successor to her husband began in 2014, when she became head of the ruling party’s women’s league and the state propaganda machine began talking up her political acumen. Her path to power received an enormous boost on 6 November when her main rival, the vice-president , Emmerson Mnangagwa, was fired. The feud between Mugabe and Mnangagwa had been bitter – in October she publicly denied poisoning him after he fell ill at a rally in August.


Photograph: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

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