Zimbabwe’s first lady Grace Mugabe says US dentist Walter Palmer isn’t to be blamed for Cecil the lion’s death, it was reported on Thursday.
In a comment likely to be greeted with relief by the much-hated Palmer, President Robert Mugabe’s wife told a rally in northern Zimbabwe that the bow-hunting fanatic “was not aware of the importance of Cecil”, the private Newsdayreported in an online update.
According to the state ZBC broadcaster, the 50-year-old first lady said “the people of Zimbabwe who allowed [Palmer] to kill the lion are to blame”.
Palmer became a figure of hate online and across the world after he was revealed to have killed 13-year-old Cecil on an illegal hunt near Hwange National Park, western Zimbabwe in early July.
The Zimbabwe authorities said they wanted him extradited to face justice and the dentist went into hiding in the US.
In Zimbabwe, a professional hunter and a local landowner have both been charged in connection with Cecil’s killing.
Fresh economic downturn
The 50-year-old first lady reportedly said: “I said the dentist who killed the lion must be left alone but the skulls of our ancestors must come back.”
That was a reference to Zimbabwean human remains that the Natural History Museum in London has acknowledged it has in its possession. Mugabe says the remains are of some of Zimbabwe’s first freedom fighters who were killed by British colonisers in the late 1890s. The museum has said it cannot confirm this.
In a rare reference to her husband’s mortality, Newsday also reported Grace as saying Zimbabweans will “regret” it when the aging Mugabe is gone.
“Time will come when president Mugabe is gone, you will regret and wish that the president was around,” she said. Grace has previously denied having any ambition to succeed her 91-year-old husband, although some in Zimbabwe believe the prominence she is being given since last year is a sign that she may be headed for high political office. She is already head of the ruling party’s women’s league.
ZBC reported her as urging Zimbabweans “not to be swayed by detractors who use the issue of the economy to make them leave the party”.
Zimbabwe is facing a fresh economic downturn marked by job losses and company closures.