Grace Mugabe on a mission to gain supporters
Zimbabwe’s first lady Grace Mugabe, who is on a mission to build a power base of her own ahead of the Zanu-PF congress in December, on Wednesday addressed her third rally inside a week at the City Sports Centre in Harare, this time departing from her usual vitriolic attack of her opponents while calling for unity of purpose.
But Grace’s critics, from a faction led by Vice-President Joice Mujuru who attended the rally in large numbers, did not take her message seriously. They said her call for unity was an attempt to portray herself as a unifier and that she was advised that she was shooting herself in the foot by being confrontational instead of helping mend bridges.
Grace is being sponsored by a faction loyal to Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, which is locked in a battle with the Mujuru-led faction to succeed President Robert Mugabe (90). Many Zanu-PF officials say Mugabe does not have the stamina to complete his current term, which ends in 2018, hence the jostle by the warring parties to place themselves strategically to take over power.
Zimbabwe’s Constitution stipulates that in the event of a sitting president becoming incapacitated or dying in office before the completion of a term, the president’s party chooses someone to finish the term, hence the cut-throat competition.
The Zanu-PF Women’s League has nominated Grace as its head, but she is said to be eyeing a higher position. However, she is handicapped by the lack of a power base and grassroots support, hence her move to address rallies countrywide.
The first lady has met members of the women’s league, members of the youth league, traditional chiefs and church leaders as part of a strategy to meet stakeholders and opinion-makers ahead of the congress.
‘Bouncer for hire’
Grace, who has called herself a tough “bouncer for hire”, has been divisive in her previous rallies. She has declared war on senior Zanu-PF officials, among them Mujuru.
Her public statements have been criticised by her opponents, who allege that she is tearing the party further apart instead of helping to bring unity to the organisation.
She was expected to come out guns blazing again at her rally in Harare, given that most of the senior party officials in the province support Mujuru. They have even tried to block her from registering in Harare province, insisting she launch her political career in her husband’s Mashonaland West province, prompting Mugabe to step in to rescue his wife.
“I want to hear why she should leave Harare, going where? I would also want to know where the emperor of Harare got his powers from,” Mugabe said on his return from China, after hearing that Harare provincial political commissar Shadreck Mashayamombe was blocking Grace’s attempts to be included in the provincial structures.
Grace used the rally to “forgive” Mashayamombe, whom she called her child.
“Mashayamombe, you are my child, let’s work together. As a mother I saw that you were trying to reach out to me. As a mother I also know that a child can err. So I have opened my heart, let’s work together,” she said.
Call for forgiveness
She called on Harare chairperson Amos Midzi, who was said to be against Grace launching her political career in Harare, and the province’s youth chair, Godwin Gomwe, a Mnangagwa loyalist who has been fighting in Grace’s corner, to forgive each other. Gomwe and senior party officials from Harare had a serious fallout emanating from differences on whether or not to support Grace.
Grace took the opportunity to castigate factionalism, which she said was destroying Zanu-PF while distracting the party from fulfilling its electoral promises.
“Harare has many problems. The city is very dirty, and people like Midzi should be working to fix those challenges instead of pushing factional agendas and positioning themselves for post,” she said.
She said Harare residents were angry because of the government’s failure to provide services, hence the need for everyone to pull together. Grace said Zanu-PF risked losing elections if the party failed to improve the livelihoods of the people.
“The social services are not there. People are drinking water with sewage and I am talking here as a Harare resident. We don’t have water, we had to drill a borehole [at our home]. We combined the little resources we had to drill a borehole but what about those who can’t afford to drill a borehole?” she asked.
“We made promises to the people. We can’t be a party which is good at making promises, we should honour those promises so that people will continue to vote for us.”
Support for the opposition
She called on Zanu-PF officials to reach out to people who support opposition parties so that Zanu-PF continues to grow.
But Grace took a swipe at senior party officials who she said was receiving money from hostile countries to destabilise Zanu-PF.
She said some party officials had tried to bribe the first family by offering to construct houses, while someone offered the family $10-million to derail the land reform programme.
Grace said she had no regrets about grabbing land in Mazowe, saying she was doing so to inspire Zimbabweans.
“I took a farm so that you are not scared because of it’s our land. I am not apologetic. We are taking back our things which were stolen by thieves.”
Maize seed donation
Grace donated 30 tonnes of maize seed to those who attended the rally, but her opponents said she was buying votes ahead of the congress. She has donated inputs in Mashonaland West and Midlands.
Grace called for peace and unity, but factionalism was at play throughout the rally. Grace supporters booed Midzi and Zanu-PF youth chairperson Kudzai Chipanga when they stood to address the rally. Midzi and Chipanga are sympathetic to Mujuru.
As has become the norm, people were provided with free transport by state-owned Zimbabwe United Passengers. The buses are adorned with pictures and posters of Grace.
Some of the posters read: “In solidarity with Amai” and others have inscriptions that read “Madzimai kuna Amai [Women back your mother]”.