Africa

Grace itching to pick fight with Mujuru

Harare Correspondent

The knives are out ahead of Zanu-PF's congress in December, with President Robert Mugabe already warning of a purge.

President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace greet supporters at a national Heroes' Day rally in Harare last week. Many believe Grace is being pushed forward to succeed her ageing husband. (Reuters)

Tensions continue to rise in Zanu-PF following Grace Mugabe’s unexpected entry into full-time politics, with many senior officials believing President Robert Mugabe’s hidden hand is behind the move.

Senior party officials, two politburo members and a central committee member told the Mail & Guardian this week they feared Mugabe wanted to create a new power base around the first lady before purging or demoting some influential officials at the party congress in December.

The officials said Grace’s entry into politics has further divided Zanu-PF, given the confrontational approach she has adopted.

Senior party officials believe Grace (49) is on a mission to destabilise the faction led by Vice-President Joice Mujuru, which has seized control of key organs of the party ahead of the congress.

The congress will have a major say on who takes over from Mugabe (90) when he leaves office. Although he has expressed his desire to finish his term, his associates believe age and ill health are catching up with him, with some suggesting he may not have the stamina to last until his term ends in 2018.

“The general belief is that Mugabe is under pressure from his wife, who wants to secure her wealth and children’s future.

Grace is therefore coming in to ensure she has a say in Zanu-PF succession dynamics, but the problem is that the party should be larger than individuals,” said a politburo member. “The Mugabes want to treat the party as a dynasty, which is wrong.

“Mugabe has not publicly supported his wife, but behind the scenes we know he is playing a part in the plotting. They [those pushing for Grace] want it to appear as though the women’s league has approached her to rescue the party but we know it’s only a handful of officials, working in cahoots with the first family, who are arranging everything,” said the official, who chose to remain anonymous.

On a warpath
“It does not help either that Grace has been on a warpath since she became active in Zanu-PF. On Thursday last week she was saying she is ready to fight and can pack a punch. Who does she want to fight and why is she being so aggressive? We thought she was being brought in to mend relations rather than to come [in] for a fight.”

Grace Mugabe’s arrival in politics was announced a fortnight ago, when women’s league leader Oppah Muchinguri led women from Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces in endorsing her to take over the wing’s leadership at a meeting held at the Mugabes’ farm in Mazowe, in Mashonaland Central.

Muchinguri, a key member of a faction led by Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, said she was inviting Grace Mugabe to give direction to the party, arguing it had lost its way because of bickering caused by power-hungry people who wanted to elbow out Robert Mugabe.

Muchinguri has also been campaigning for Grace around the country. Last Thursday, while addressing members of the Zanu-PF Youth League, she said some people wanted to kill her for her stance. Grace also said some officials had vowed to deal with her once Mugabe was out of power. She claimed that some Zanu-PF officials had said they wanted to “drag her down the road”.

Another politburo member said that some officials advancing Grace’s agenda were sowing seeds of confusion in the party to justify the purging of officials, which they insist is being planned ahead of congress.

Robert Mugabe has accused senior party officials of failing to organise the Zanu-PF youth conference properly last week, by among other things failing to provide adequate transport and food.

He also castigated senior officials, whom he did not mention by name, of vote buying and manipulating voting patterns at the youth congress, before warning them not to cry foul if they lost their positions at the congress.

On Monday, Muchinguri was flanked by politburo members Saviour Kasukuwere, Jonathan Moyo and Patrick Zhuwao – all believed to be sympathetic to Grace. He announced that “some party officials had been kidnapped ahead of this week’s women’s league conference”.

On Wednesday the state-run Herald reported that the women’s league had approached Kasukuwere, Moyo, Zhuwao and businessman Phillip Chiyangwa to donate food and provide transport for delegates after Zanu-PF officials failed to prepare adequately for the conference.

But an official said the women’s league was deliberately exaggerating the crisis to tarnish the image of senior party officials.

“It’s a deliberate ploy to create a crisis which would justify the purging of some officials. The Zanu-PF elections directorate, which is chaired by national chairperson Simon Khaya Moyo and has officials like political commissar Webster Shamu, secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa and party spokesperson Rugare Gumbo – who are all members of the Mujuru faction – are being targeted,” said the official.

“Mutasa is also leading the finance department in an acting capacity, so the idea is to paint him as a failure. As the leader of the finance department his duties include raising money for conferences and congresses, so they want to give an impression that the leadership has failed to execute its duties. It’s a campaign to soil their image[s] ahead of congress.”

Party officials believe Muchinguri may be rewarded at the congress with a senior post for pushing Grace’s agenda.

Outgoing women’s league boss Muchinguri and her office could not be reached for comment.“The general belief is that Mugabe is under pressure from his wife, who wants to secure her wealth and children’s future. She is coming in to ensure she has a say”

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