On a Wednesday afternoon in November, Grace Mugabe stood outside the Zanu-PF headquarters in full party regalia before a crowd of thousands.
Her husband's face was stamped across one sleeve, her wrists stacked with armbands in Zanu green and yellow and red and black. She was smiling.
Her biggest rival, Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, had been fired just two days earlier. It had been a year-long campaign of sustained insult and innuendo. But it was her booing by a crowd at a weekend rally – in front of her husband, no less – that got the job done.
Mnangagwa was out, finally, and she stood in prime position with the backing of both the party's women and youth leagues to fill his seat. The police had even launched a manhunt to find and arrest the hecklers from the weekend before.
She was a First Lady at the peak of powers, in a seemingly unstoppable trajectory to the top job in the country. And this rally was for her.
Less than two weeks later, Grace Mugabe was expelled from Zanu-PF and her husband removed as party leader. The reliably fawning state media turned, and First Lady Dr Amai Grace Mugabe was suddenly recast in the ignominious role of the crude secretary-mistress whose Lady Macbeth-level ambition brought to an end one of the longest running presidencies on the continent.
That Grace's showdown with Mnangagwa should have ended so badly must have come as a surprise in a year when she was literally allowed to get away with assault.
“She cornered me and started beating the hell out of me,” South African model Gabriella Engels said of the alleged August incident when she was attacked by an extension cord-wielding Grace in a Sandton hotel room where the wayward Mugabe sons were said to be wasting away the family fortune.
“She just had this sort of look in her eyes, that she was furious,” Engels told News24. “She was well-dressed and I had no idea who she was. She kept screaming, asking where her son was.”
In her deposition, Grace went on the attack. Again. She called Engels “intoxicated” and “unhinged” and alleged the model came at her with a knife.
Not that it was necessary. On a Sunday morning, the South African government quietly and retrospectively granted Grace immunity. And as journalists waited for her to hand herself over to the police, Zimbabwe's state press reported that their First Lady had returned home safely.
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