Robert Mugabe and Grace Mugabe Image Credit: Reuters and AP

London: The wife of Robert Mugabe has been having a secret affair with one of her husband's best friends, it was claimed yesterday.

Grace Mugabe — who is 41 years younger than Zimbabwe's 86-year-old president — has spent the past five years cuckolding him with Gideon Gono, head of the country's central bank.

The couple would meet as often as three times a month either at her dairy farm or in expensive hotels in neighbouring South Africa.

Mugabe finally found out about the affair in July when his sister Sabina revealed the scandal on her deathbed, it was reported.

Since then his most-trusted bodyguard Cain Chademana — who is said to have told the furious president that he knew of the affair but thought it best to keep quiet — has lost his life amid suspicions that he was poisoned.

Gono, 50, is now said to fear for his safety. "Once he [Mugabe] hears something like that, I think someone will go to meet God," said one intelligence official.

It is not the first time Mugabe's wife, who is widely reviled inside Zimbabwe for her lavish tastes and expensive shopping sprees, has conducted affairs behind her husband's back.

One former lover, Peter Pamire, died in a mysterious car accident. Another, James Makamba, fled the country.

Gono has known Grace Mugabe, who married the president in 1996, for at least 15 years and they are partners in a number of business ventures.

He is a pillar of the Zanu PF party that has held on to power in Zimbabwe since its 1980 independence from Britain.

In luxury

Gono has served since 2003 as head of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe — a period that saw hyperinflation of more than a billion per cent a year. While many of Zimbabwe's poor people struggle to find enough food to eat, Gono lives in a 47-bedroom mansion with a swimming pool, gym and a mini theatre.

Yesterday a source close to the banker confirmed that he and the first lady were lovers and claimed they had planned a life together after Mugabe's death.

Mugabe's relationship with Grace is itself founded on infidelity. Two of their three children were born when Mugabe was still married to his popular first wife, Sally, who was battling a kidney disease from which she died in 1992.