President Robert Mugabe’s wife Grace is moving to build her support base and national profile by engaging traditional leaders and Zanu-PF’s grassroots structures ahead of the party’s congress in December, where she is expected to land the position of secretary of the Zanu-PF Women’s League.
Grace’s entry into politics was facilitated by women’s league boss Oppah Muchinguri, who last month mobilised women from the country’s 10 provinces to gather at the president’s wife’s orphanage in Mazowe, Mashonaland Central, where they endorsed her as the leader-designate. The move is seen as a bid to scupper Vice-President Joice Mujuru’s presidential bid, and Muchinguri and Grace used the opportunity to attack Mujuru. Muchinguri campaigned for Mujuru to take over the vice-presidency in 2004, but the two have since fallen out.
Despite being endorsed by the women’s league and the youth league, Zanu-PF insiders and political analysts have argued that Grace will struggle to exert influence in the party because she has no power base of her own or grass-roots support. She has relied on support from her husband and Muchinguri as she seeks to make inroads into Zanu-PF.
Despite being nominated to lead the women’s league, Grace does not qualify to hold the post – she has not served the party for 15 consecutive years, five of which should have been at provincial level, according to Zanu-PF’s rules governing appointments to the central committee.
Harare province, though, has been bullied into reserving a central committee seat for Grace.
Women’s league officials who are pushing her bid said Grace would address rallies countrywide and meet stakeholders and opinion-makers as part of a strategy to build her national profile.
“She has already met women’s league officials and youth league officials from the country’s 10 provinces, and this was the initial stage of the plan for her to meet the grass-roots. The women and youth are spreading her word and making it known that Amai [our mother] has joined the political fray,” said a women’s league official.
The official said Grace had met members of the chiefs’ council in Mazowe this week, and added that “there is no better way to introduce yourself to the people than through traditional chiefs”.
“The chiefs are custodians of our culture, they live and interact with the common people on a daily basis and command a lot of respect from people under their jurisdiction. The chiefs endorsed her leadership and because they are true representatives of the people, it means Zimbabweans have also endorsed her.
“But she will not stop there. She will also visit the provinces and districts to thank people for trusting her with the position. She will be able to engage with common men and women during those campaigns, which will start in the next few days. She will visit all provinces.”
Chief Fortune Charumbira, the president of the Chiefs Council of Zimbabwe, said all the chiefs supported Grace. The chiefs were accompanied by their spouses and were served refreshments. Grace was accompanied by Muchinguri.
“Our support is unanimous,” said Charumbira.
“Because of the good work that you are doing, you are worth rising to the level of secretary for the women’s league.”
The officials said Muchinguri and other members of the league were preparing the ground for Grace’s campaigns by engaging party structures ahead of her tours.
As part of efforts to ensure the grass-roots are aware of Grace’s entry into politics, the parastatal bus company, Zimbabwe United Passenger Company, has displayed posters of Grace on some of its long-distance buses.
Some of the posters read: “In solidarity with Amai” and others have inscriptions that read “Madzimai kuna Amai” (Women back your mother).
Grace’s entry into politics has further stirred the turbulent waters in Zanu-PF, which is struggling to contain succession fights that have spilled into the public domain.
Zanu-PF officials believe Mugabe (90) may not finish his term, which ends in 2018, because of his advanced age and health problems. This has spurred a fight among senior officials to be strategically placed for the inevitable takeover.
The party has two main factions, one led by Mujuru and the other by Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The Mujuru faction appears to have the advantage at the moment because it dominates Zanu-PF’s highest decision-making body, the politburo, and other key organs of the party, such as the central committee and the party’s provincial structures, which all play a role in determining who eventually takes over should Mugabe fail to complete his term.
The Mnangagwa faction is fighting back, however, and has roped in Grace as it seeks to turn the tide, forcing Mugabe, who has been giving the impression he is neutral, to take sides and publicly defend his wife.
Grace does not see eye to eye with Mujuru and does not believe she will protect her (Grace’s) vast business interests and her family’s interests should she assume the presidency.