Once a quiet figure known for her shopping and her charity work, until Tuesday this week, She had become a powerful political force in the ruling Zanu PF party as the head of its women’s league.
She had gradually positioned herself as a potential successor to her 93-year-old husband Robert as president when he dies or steps down.
At 52, Mrs Mugabe is four decades younger than her 93-year-old husband, the world’s oldest ruler, who has governed Zimbabwe since the end of white-minority rule in 1980.
Mrs Mugabe has always been a staunch supporter of her husband – earlier this year she memorably said that he could even win votes as a corpse.
She has not denied wanting to take the helm of the country, and at a 2014 rally she said: “They say I want to be president. Why not? Am I not a Zimbabwean?”
Along with her husband, Mrs Mugabe is subject to EU and US sanctions, including travel bans, imposed over the seizure of land and accusations of rigged elections and crackdowns on political opposition.
The rise of Grace Mugabe
President Mugabe began wooing Grace Marufu while she was working as a young typist in the country’s state house. The two began an affair while he was married to his terminally ill first wife, Sally.
“He came to me and started asking about my family,” she said in a rare interview about their first encounter in the late 1980s.
“I looked at him as a father figure. I did not think he would at all look at me and say: ‘I like that girl.’ I least expected that.”
Mr Mugabe has said Sally did give her consent to the union before she died in 1992 – though he did not marry Grace until four years later. The couple have three children: Bona, Robert and Chatunga.
Occasionally referred to as “Gucci Grace”, Mrs Mugabe has been criticised by some for an alleged appetite for extravagant shopping.
The first family have vast properties, businesses and farms dotted around the country, mainly in the rich western and northern Mashonaland provinces.
Over the years Mrs Mugabe has attempted to grow herself into a powerful businesswoman and sees herself as a philanthropist, founding an orphanage on a farm just outside the capital, Harare, with the help of Chinese funding.
She controversially earned a PhD in sociology from the University of Zimbabwe in just two months in 2014, although her thesis, unlike those of other students, was never filed and has never been made available.
Since becoming more active in politics, she has become known for her sharp tongue and tough reputation. Pulling no punches while attacking political opponents, Mrs Mugabe often fiercely defends her husband.
She has been accused of washing the ruling party’s dirty linen in public by calling on people to resign or apologise.
She said the vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa should be sacked from government because she was “corrupt, an extortionist, incompetent, a gossiper, a liar and ungrateful”, and accused her of collaborating with opposition forces and white people to undermine the country’s post-independence gains.
Emmerson Mnangagwa, a former justice minister who Mrs Mugabe had called “loyal and disciplined”. But by 2017, Mrs Mugabe was publicly calling on her husband to remove Mr Mnangagwa. She suggested that his supporters were planning a coup.
In November, Mr Mugabe sacked Mr Mnangagwa. The country’s information minister said the vice-president had “exhibited traits of disloyalty”. Mr Mnangagwa subsequently fled the country.