Grace's latest antics may well be a step too far
When Grace Mugabe entered politics in July 2014 and took over as head of the Zanu-PF Women's League, her rise was dismissed as a fluke.
But she has managed to stay the course, proving critics wrong by increasing her political stock.
Using her sharp tongue, she has roundly routed political opponents including Joice Mujuru, the former vice-president, and the war veterans who were once a loyal constituency of President Robert Mugabe's rule.Given her political power, few would have imagined that Mugabe would be made vulnerable by Gabriella Engels, a 20-year-old model. She has accused Zimbabwe's first lady of assaulting her at a Sandton hotel using an extension cord.
The assault risks muddying Mugabe's ambitions to succeed her husband.
Gary van Staden, a political analyst at NKC African Economics, said Mugabe's actions in South Africa had provided her enemies in Zanu-PF with "more ammunition" to undermine her ambitions.
"Grace is popular only because of her proximity to the president. Once he goes, she is finished as a political force and will be lucky to stay out of jail or worse," he said.
Piers Pigou, the Southern Africa director of the International Crisis Group, said: "She is regarded as a divisive and volatile force ..."
AfriForum's announcement this week that it was taking on Engels's case marked the start of what are expected to be months of pressure being piled onto Mugabe.Prior to her political rise, Mugabe was known for standing by her husband's side and shopping for Gucci handbags and Salvatore Ferragamo shoes in London.
Some say this underestimation of her has worked to her advantage as she rose from being a typist in the '90s to becoming presidential spouse.
In an interview to mark his 93rd birthday in February, Robert Mugabe chuckled over his wife's political agility. He described her as a "strong character".
But how is it that Mugabe has managed to be a crowd-puller and a controversial figure at the same time? Her strategy in part has been to cast herself as a mother figure. Her supporters have popularised the slogan "munhu wese kuna amai (everyone must support Mother)".