Sally Mugabe Will: How Journalist Michael Harnack Won Battle Against Stubborn Robert Mugabe

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Robert and Sally Mugabe

In Harare first week of December 2019, while Zimbabweans waited anxiously for the magnitude of the late leader Robert Mugabe’s wealth, we warned that his actual worth may never be known. While it did not come as a shock to us that Mugabe left no will detailing how he wanted his wealth distributed, we insisted that the Administration of Estates Act that he tempered with following the death of his first wife Sally Hayfron in 1992 would be applied silence the national mood and expectations.

The case of Sally Mugabe was neatly summed up by the late award-winning journalist Michael Harnack who single-handedly fought Robert Mugabe through the courts demanding to see Sally’s will. While Hanarck was simply doing his investigative job, Mugabe was concealing his disinheritance in Sally’s will. In fact, out of bitterness following a betrayal by the then-husband Robert who cheated with another woman Grace Marufu changed her will while on a deathbed.

When Sally died, she was a member of Zanu PF’s highest decision making body, the Politiburo.The party rules enshrined in their Leadership Code meant Sally could not own more than one house or 20 hectares on land  and banned from having private businesses.

It took  10-months after the death  of Sally for Mugabe and his legal team led by Mr Robert Stumbles to declare that there was no valid will left or the will was set aside making it difficult to find details about Sally’s financial affairs . During the time , there were reports of the rift on the distribution of wealth between Mugabe and Sally’s family in Ghana.Mugabe’s lawyer refused to comment on the family matter .The Master of High Court Jacob Moyo said Sally’s estate was exempt from duty and routine procedures of the Administration of Estates  Act, therefore, need not apply and they appointed executors to the estate.Moyo’s reasoning was based on the fact that Mugabe had award heroine status to his wife and the matter was confidential with state media barred from publishing any details.Under the 1988 Finance the estates of all national heroes and heroines are exempt from duty and all taxation.

In March 2003 ,Harnack representing Times Media turned up at the Master’s Office to inspect the documents after the legal firm Gollop and Blank announced that the first and final account of Mrs Sally Mugabe would be open for public inspection for 14 days. The Master refused him permission and his lawyers on three attempts. At the time, there was no requirement for a person who wishes to inspect the distribution accounts relating to a deceased estate to establish a financial interest in the estate. Backed by Times Media,  Harnack then decided to approach the courts to force Moyo to allow him to have full access to the will and the case was heard before judge Justice George Smith at the High Court but was rejected on technical grounds.

On 19 March 1993, Justice Smith denied the Times Media access to Sally Mugabe’s will. While court agreed that it was a matter of public interest and anyone was clearly entitled to inspect Sally’s estate he refused to issue an order enforcing access. Despite all these developments ,  Moyo denied Harnack and his lawyers sight of the accounts arguing “ That is just the judge’s opinion”.

With a day left before the inspection closed on 25 March, Harnack, armed with his legal team approached the Supreme Court as a matter of urgency. Three sitting judges Chief Justice Gubbay, Justice McNally and Justice Korsah ordered that Mrs Mugabe’s estate be opened saying Moyo and estate executor Abdullah Kassim can not keep the contents of the final accounts secret. Sally’s estate was worth R90000 in assets and £2000 which she saved while living in Britain while Mugabe was in detention.

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