GWERU, ZIMBABWE —
Zimbabwe's first lady Grace Mugabe spoke in public Friday for the first time since she was accused of assaulting a South African model in Johannesburg. Addressing a rally of the ruling Zanu PF party with her husband, President Robert Mugabe, she called for unity as Zimbabwe prepares for elections in 2018.
The 52-year-old Grace Mugabe did not make any reference to the case, in which she was accused of assaulting model Gabriella Engels with an electrical cord two weeks ago. The alleged incident occurred after Mugabe found her two adult sons, both in their 20s, in a Johannesburg hotel room with Engels.
At the Friday rally, the first lady took a swipe at a faction led by Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, saying it is causing division in the Zanu PF.
"Here in Midlands, I am appealing to you to stop factionalism and vilifying the president, his wife, or his kids," she said. " We don't want behavior that causes disunity of top leadership. You rabble-rousers fanning factionalism, you stop it!"
Her husband, who has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980, also said nothing about the case in which his wife was granted diplomatic immunity by President Jacob Zuma's government in order to avoid arrest in South Africa on assault charges.
Instead, President Mugabe criticized late South African President Nelson Mandela, saying Mandela was soft on whites. Mugabe said South African politician Jeffrey Radebe "referred" him to the late leader when he asked why whites still dominated the economy of South Africa.
"They [whites] have industrial companies. They employ blacks as workers. The blacks cannot liberate themselves from where they were when Mandela left them," Mugabe said. "The white people will say we are equal, no one should take anyone's belongings: whether land or industries. So, all they can do is work in Johannesburg and in mines. That is what Radebe said when he said, 'Ask your friend Mandela.' Where would I have found my friend Mandela, who is long gone?"
Radebe, who works in Zuma's office, could not be reached for comment Friday.