In an attempt to secure her own future, the first lady has become a willing pawn in Zanu-PF’s internal succession wars.
Grace Mugabe’s entry into active politics has shaken the power dynamics in Zanu-PF and destabilised the faction led by Vice-President Joice Mujuru.
The Zanu-PF faction led by Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa played a critical role through the party’s secretary for the women’s league, Oppah Muchinguri, in roping President Robert Mugabe’s wife into active politics.
Grace is set to take over from Muchinguri at the women’s league conference later this month.
Her entry into active politics is also being facilitated by Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo, Mugabe’s nephew, and comes just in time for the youth league congress on August 7 to 10 and the party’s main congress in December.
The Mujuru faction looked all set for a clean sweep at the congress, paving the way for Mujuru to succeed Mugabe. With Grace entering active politics, the Mnangagwa faction was given a huge shot in the arm and panic hit the Mujuru camp, Mujuru allies said this week.
However, the move to catapult Grace into politics is subject to approval from the Politburo, Zanu-PF’s de facto highest decision-making body.
The party has guidelines that stipulate that those vying for women’s league executive positions should have actively served for 15 years, including five years in provincial structures. If the rules and regulations were followed to the letter, Grace would not qualify for the post, which would give her automatic qualification into the central committee and, the Politburo.
Senior Zanu-PF officials, including Politburo members, maintain that Grace, who does not see eye-to-eye with Mujuru, is not confident Mujuru will protect her children and vast business empire if her 90-year-old husband was no longer in power.
If Grace succeeds in taking over the league’s leadership, then Muchinguri, who is the league’s incumbent boss and is backing Grace, will be set to challenge Mujuru for the party’s vice presidency. There have also been reports that she (Muchinguri) may be eyeing the secretary for administration’s position, which is currently occupied by Presidential Affairs Minister Didymus Mutasa. Mutasa is a key Mujuru ally.
“Mujuru had covered a lot of ground ahead of congress and it appeared she and her candidates were poised to win. But there was always a worry that Mugabe and Grace had an ace up their sleeve and were plotting something.
“Grace’s entry into politics seems to be a well calculated move to neutralise the Mujuru faction. Oppah’s involvement says it all – she is one of the most influential members of the Mnangagwa faction,” said a Politburo member aligned to the vice-president.
“With Grace taking over from Oppah, chances are that Oppah will challenge Mujuru at congress. There is also a fear that the Mugabes may also prop up someone to take over from the president when he leaves office, although this may not be Mnangagwa.
“It could possibly be a relative or someone trusted by the first family. Names like [former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor] Gideon [Gono] quickly come to mind.”
Gono is close to the first family and is believed to be the family’s business adviser.
Endorsing Grace Mugabe
Last Friday, Muchinguri led women from Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces in endorsing Grace as women’s league boss in a meeting held at the Mugabe’s farm in Mazowe, in Mashonaland Central.
Tellingly, Mujuru was absent from the event, a development which played into Muchinguri’s hands as she took full advantage to attack her for her impatience in seeking to usurp Mugabe’s position.
She did not mention her by name, but those in attendance were in no doubt who she was talking about.
She also accused the Mujuru faction of using fraudulent means to achieve their success in the party’s elections to choose provincial chairpersons at the end of last year.
‘Sham party elections’
“They are busy suspending people so that they become ineligible for election. You may do it at the top, but the grassroots [members] are watching,” said Muchinguri.
“After the national elections [in July 2013] we had sham party elections. In some instances you had people who are not even in the cell structures of the party being voted in.
“I am saying this because this Zanu-PF is no longer the genuine Zanu-PF of the liberation struggle, where we lost some of our cadres in Mozambique.
“Some [comrades] were buying votes in bars; they looked for hecklers to denigrate genuine cadres,” she said before imploring Grace, whom she addressed as “Mhai” [a Manyika word for mother], to take over to rescue the party.
Zanu-PF insiders said before the idea to elevate Grace, Muchinguri was set to be challenged for the women’s league top position by Olivia Muchena, a Mujuru ally.
According to party sources, after learning of Mujuru’s manoeuvres to replace her with Muchena and, given that the Mujuru faction had controversially dissolved district co-ordinating committees and won provincial elections, an upset Muchinguri reportedly conferred with Mnangagwa and former labour minister July Moyo two months ago to discuss ways of fighting back.
Mnangagwa’s chief strategist
Moyo is seen as Mnangagwa’s chief strategist. Chombo also attended these meetings, where it was resolved that he would persuade Grace to take over the women’s league leadership to neutralise the Mujuru faction.
“Bringing in Grace is a smart move which is also aimed at undermining the new electoral guidelines, because she has never held a position in Zanu-PF,” said a party source.
“The Mnangagwa faction organised this in the knowledge that nobody will dare try to enforce the eligibility rules with Grace. If they cannot be enforced, a precedence will have been set in which they can no longer be enforced on the rest of the party members.
“Roping in Grace is also a psychological boost which will show their rivals that the Mnangagwa faction has the support of the first family.”
Party sources said that last Thursday Chombo was co-ordinating the transportation of delegates to the Mazowe bash.
Despite officials falling over each other to welcome Grace into active politics, many party officials are seething with anger.
As a party member, Grace qualifies to be in the women’s league. The party’s constitution says any member of the party who is 18 and above can be part of the body but only those with 15 years of service to the party can hold executive positions.
A political scientist at the University of Zimbabwe, Dr Eldred Masunungure, said if Mugabe accepts Grace’s nomination, party unity could be compromised.
‘Mugabe is not just party leader’
“The jury is still out on the implications of her entry from nowhere to the top structures of the women’s league and what it means to the various party leaders gladiating (sic) to succeed President Robert Mugabe,” he said.
“Mugabe is not just party leader but also Grace’s husband and so the question is whether he will endorse her ascension, in which case he will be subverting clearly laid down regulations by the Politburo on elections. If he does ... this will have serious implications for the unity of the party.
“It will be like household interests are more important than party cohesion. The implication will be that Zanu-PF is no longer a rules-based party, but one that is managed on mere whims,” said Masunungure.
Zanu-PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo, who is rumoured to be a Mujuru allay, played down the impact of Grace’s entry into politics. Gumbo said nothing had changed as far as Mujuru’s position is concerned, as she was only coming into a lower organ of the party.
“There is really nothing to this. There is really nothing to worry about because the vice president (Mujuru) is in the presidium, which is a much higher office than the women’s league.
“She is not in any way affected by this, because she is not looking to challenge for a lower position in the party,” said Gumbo, who also accused journalists of sensationalising the issue.
‘Open the floodgates’
Gumbo said it was not automatic that Grace would be allowed to head the women’s league, because the final decision lay with the Politburo.
“Her endorsement will not in any way open the floodgates for others to circumvent the rules. The rules and regulations of the party are very clear in their requirements about the number of years people must be active party members to be able to contest for positions, and nothing has changed,” said Gumbo.
“While it is the right of the women’s league and other junior organs of the party like the youth league to make recommendations, it must be clear that ... it is the Politburo and congress which will have the final say in this matter.”
Muchinguri could not be reached for comment. A woman who answered her phone said she was in meetings.
Mujuru and her associates had appeared to have outmanoeuvred Mnangagwa, especially in the past two weeks, after successfully drawing up new election guidelines. These guidelines include the requirement of 15 years continuous service in the party.
It is a move believed to be aimed at eliminating Mnangagwa loyalists, some of whom spent a long time in the cold after being suspended or kicked out over a 2004 plot meant to allegedly catapult Mnangagwa to the helm of the party.
New electoral guidelines
At the time, six provincial chairpersons were suspended, as were many other party officials, and it is these who would be ineligible to contest positions in the different party organs including the central committee, women’s and youth league, which all have a say on who eventually succeeds Mugabe.
Mujuru’s success with the new electoral guidelines followed on previous success in 2012, when she convinced Mugabe to dissolve the party’s district co-ordinating committees, which were dominated by Mnangagwa loyalists claiming that they were fomenting divisions within the party.
Last year, her candidates won nine of the 10 seats in provincial elections, which Mnangagwa said were “unprofessionally” run.