Report that Grace Mugabe donated second-hand underwear puts her dirty laundry on display again

Reporter is charged with ‘criminal nuisance’ over embarrassing story about Zimbabwe’s first lady

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 October, 2017, 2:27pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 November, 2017, 7:11pm

A Zimbabwean journalist who reported that Grace Mugabe, the first lady, donated used clothing including underwear to supporters of the ruling Zanu-PF party has been detained and charged with causing a criminal nuisance.

Kenneth Nyangani, a reporter from Newsday newspaper, was held in a police cell for 18 hours after his arrest on Monday night, his lawyer, Passmore Nyakureba, told the Guardian.

International human rights organisations have called for Nyangani’s release and accused Zimbabwean authorities of seeking to intimidate and harass journalists in the former British colony.

“The arrest ... is a deliberate tactic to harass and intimidate him and other journalists in order to deter them from doing their work,” said Cousin Zilala, executive director of Amnesty International Zimbabwe.

Tensions are rising in Zimbabwe as the economy deteriorates and a vicious struggle to succeed the 93-year-old president Robert Mugabe, in power for more than 35 years, intensifies.

The main contenders to take power when Mugabe dies or steps down are his wife and Emmerson Mnangagwa, a vice-president who has significant support within the country’s powerful security establishment.

The first lady is deeply unpopular with Zimbabweans, who have been incensed by reports of her extravagant spending.

The 53-year-old recently bought a US$400,000 Rolls-Royce and has invested heavily in South African real estate, Zimbabwean media reported this week.

Footage of one of her sons also taking delivery of two top-of-the-range Rolls-Royce cars last month prompted outrage.

Nyakureba said his client, who is due to appear in court on Wednesday morning and could face six months in prison and a US$200 fine, was standing by his story “100 per cent”.

“This reaction from the authorities is just because the first lady is involved. They want people off her back. She has been receiving a lot of negative reports in the newspapers and they want to improve her image,” he said.

In August, Grace Mugabe was accused of assaulting a model with an electric cable in an upmarket neighbourhood in South Africa’s commercial capital, Johannesburg. She was controversially granted diplomatic immunity after the incident and allowed to leave South Africa despite an ongoing police inquiry.

She denies all wrongdoing and says the model, Gabriella Engels, attacked her with a knife.

The first lady did not accompany her husband on a visit to South Africa this week. Speaking in Pretoria on Tuesday, Robert Mugabe sought to smooth any ruffled diplomatic feathers, telling Jacob Zuma, the beleaguered South African president, that their countries were bonded by the efforts they had made together against repression.