Robert Mugabe’s first lady throws gauntlet to Swiss dairy giant Nestle
Zimbabwe’s first lady, Grace Mugabe, has launched a range of dairy products in Harare in a direct challenge to Swiss food giant Nestle, which refused to buy milk from her seized farm three years ago.
Sachets of milk and lacto (buttermilk) from her rebranded Alpha Omega Dairy went on sale in OK, Zimbabwe’s biggest supermarket chain, this week, slightly undercutting other brands.
Best known for her love of luxury shopping overseas and her disregard for the welfare of millions of struggling Zimbabweans, Mugabe says 88-year-old president Robert Mugabe helped her with funding for her state-of-the-art dairy processing plant, built on a farm in Mazowe, 30 miles north of Harare.
The former white owners of what was then Foyle Farm were forced to sell it to the regime at a fraction of its value in 2003.
Alpha Omega will soon also produce ice-cream, fruit juices and yoghurt as Mugabe tries to wrest the market from Nestle. The food giant roused the wrath of the Mugabes when it stopped buying milk from their Gushungo dairy in 2009 after an international outcry. The authorities have since ordered that Nestle Zimbabwe hand over at least 51 per cent of its shares to blacks in line with indigenisation laws.
The 46-year-old former secretary had two children, Bona and Robert junior, with the president when she married him in a lavish Catholic ceremony in Harare in 1996.
Russell Goreraza, Grace’s son with her first husband, an air force officer, is understood to manage the dairy estate. Mugabe also owns shares in Mbada Diamonds, a mining company operating in the controversial Chiadzwa diamond fields in the east of the country.
She told the official Herald newspaper earlier this year that she decided to import her own dairy processing equipment from South Africa because the state-owned Dairibord was paying farmers “uncompetitive” prices for milk. Like Air Zimbabwe and other parastatals, Dairibord has been run into the ground by years of mismanagement by ZANU-PF.
“You know we are not talking about charity work here, but it’s business,” she said. “We… decided to add value to our milk so that we really make a little bit more money for ourselves and, of course, the workers.”
The first lady, who likes to be known as amai (mother) Mugabe, claimed she had to appeal to her husband for help for the dairy project when Zimbabwe officially abandoned its local currency in 2009 and her savings were wiped out.
“I almost gave up because the machine was supposed to be brought from South Africa [at] the time we started using multi-currency,” she said. “I had no money in the bank because what I had in the bank had been wiped out overnight, so I could not continue… It’s there because of the president’s assistance.”
She says she undertook the dairy project for the president, who is accused of human rights abuses and repeated poll rigging during his 32 years in power.
“I decided that I am just going to do it for him,” she said.
However, she has also hinted that she is preparing for a future without her ailing husband, who is in Singapore yet again this week for what the state ZBC broadcaster insists is a “routine medical check-up.”
Robert Mugabe often makes trips to the city-state for treatment.
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