The headline in the Zimbabwe Herald could not have made it clearer: “Police tighten noose on Grace Mugabe.”
The newspaper, for 37 years the mouthpiece of Robert Mugabe’s government, is now the voice of the new President, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
He replaced Mugabe when the long-time leader was deposed in late 2017.
Over the last couple of months the Herald and a number of other Zimbabwean media outlets have published detailed accounts on police investigations into former first lady Grace Mugabe’s suspected role in ivory smuggling.
The first of these stories, less than two months after Mnangagwa took office, said the former first lady was being investigated for “illicit and illegal activities”.
Information said to have come from the very top of Mnangagwa’s government implicated the former first lady in an organised crime ring “responsible for the poisoning of hundreds of jumbos in the country”.
She was also accused of illicitly obtaining ivory from legal government stocks and either illegally selling it or exporting it as gifts for high profile foreign allies.
Zimbabwe is one of the key elephant range states and home to Africa’s second largest estimated elephant population of nearly 83 000 individuals, following Botswana.
Though there are high elephant numbers, alarms have been raised over poaching in the country including the use of cyanide poison to kill large numbers of them.
The first reported case of this was in 2013 when a single massacre of over 100 elephants happened at Hwange National Park.
Since then it has become a common means of poaching throughout the country’s protected areas.
As more and more evidence has been leaked to the press, the government’s intention to prosecute her for ivory and rhino horn smuggling has become clear.
If she has been involved in illegal wildlife trading and has links to poaching, then she should be prosecuted and, if found guilty, punished.
But this is also all incredibly useful for the new President who stands to benefit politically from these investigations.
Mnangagwa needs to embed himself in power as presidential and parliamentary elections are due to be held later this year.
For this, he needs to ensure the unity of ZANU-PF – Zimbabwe’s ruling party since independence – and root out any pockets of pro-Grace supporters.
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