Zimbabwe may be moving slowly towards a political dynasty if the events that have unfolded in the past month are anything to go by. The indications are that the first lady, Grace Mugabe, who only recently entered politics, is going all out for the position of the first vice-president, a post occupied by Joice Mujuru, although her ultimate goal is likely to be the presidency when her husband Robert, who is 90, leaves office.
But Zanu-PF officials linked to the Mujuru faction, who appear to be on the ropes, told the Mail & Guardian they would counter Grace’s manoeuvres, without revealing how.
Political analysts also believe that the level of aggression she has been displaying indicates the infighting in Zanu-PF is intensifying. Ibbo Mandaza, an academic, says her aggression also betrays anxiety about what will happen to her when Mugabe is no longer in power.
“What we are seeing is just an indication that we are reaching the end-game. We are in the final stages of the Mugabe era and Grace is showing signs that she is not comfortable. She is worried about something,” Mandaza said.
Grace at least seems assured of assuming the leadership of the Zanu-PF Women’s League, after its secretary, Oppah Muchinguri, announced in August she wanted to hand over the baton to the first lady.
‘Meet the people tour’
But the ambitious Grace, whom Zanu- PF insiders say is keen to protect her wealth and business and family interests, has embarked on a nationwide campaign to garner grass-roots support and boost her profile.
Zanu-PF has said that no one is allowed to campaign until the party decides on the guidelines to be used to elect officials at its congress in December, but Grace is on a “meet the people tour”, which officials say is, in fact, a political campaign.
She is being sponsored by a faction led by Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, who have been locked in battle with the Mujuru faction for many years.
Grace has used the rallies to attack her political opponents, particularly Mujuru, whom she believes wants to topple her husband.
Without mentioning her by name but in a thinly veiled vitriolic attack at a rally in Gwanda in Matabeleland South on Monday, Grace insinuated that Mujuru is not a worthy deputy to her husband and called for her to be ousted.
Mujuru is the only vice-president. The other post will be filled at the congress. “Some think because you are vice-president, you just stay there and do nothing while Mugabe works for you,” she said.
“We want a vice-president who helps the president, not just one who piggybacks on Mugabe’s back. We no longer want that. We want people who are capable. You mustn’t think because you have a post you are there forever.”
Grace has been ferried to rallies in a motorcade and accompanied by a large security detail. Government department heads, ministers and Zanu-PF politburo members from the provinces where she has addressed rallies have turned out in large numbers, just as they do when Mugabe visits.
At the rallies, Zanu-PF women have been singing Grace’s praises, calling her a saviour who will unite the party.
Her handlers, particularly Muchinguri, have constantly reminded party supporters that she is married to the president and has his ear, and therefore can tell him about their grievances. She has also portrayed Grace as a loving mother, who looks after orphans and physically and mentally challenged children.
Entitled to privileges
Grace has been using the presidential and air force helicopters, leading to complaints that she is abusing state resources for personal gain.
The presidential spokesperson, George Charamba, has defended their use, claiming that her position entitles her to the privileges.
“As the first lady, we look at issues of security, convenience and availability of the plane and these are expenses that ordinarily the first family would receive. Wherever she goes, private or public, she should have security, and her staff and I attend in my capacity to protect the image of the president as her life has an impact on the president,” he said.
Zimbabwe Television has been covering Grace’s events extensively, which has led to complaints by the public and media institutions such as the Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe, the Voluntary Media Council and the Zimbabwe National Editors’ Forum.
The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation general manager and editor-in-chief, Tazzen Mandizvidza, this week defended the coverage, arguing that her entry to politics was an important national story, “which has captivated the nation”.
Mandaza said: “She wants to pretend that she is her own person but clearly she is not. But the developments have also shown that she is going for the big post but she is not so sure if she can get it.”
Public sympathy with Mujuru
Mandaza said Grace could challenge Mujuru at the congress but said she had little chance of defeating the vice-president. He said public sympathy, even among those who were not Zanu-PF suporters, was with Mujuru because of Grace’s aggressive nature.
“If she was someone else, she would have been hauled before the party’s disciplinary committee. She has been attacking everyone. She has attacked Mujuru, she has attacked [Didymus] Mutasa [Zanu-PF’s secretary of administration] and other senior officers,” he said.
Another analyst, Dumisani Nkomo, said Grace had been roped in by the Mnangagwa faction to derail Mujuru’s bid for the presidency, but was, in fact, causing even more divisions in the party.
Nkomo said the Mujuru faction was likely to retaliate.
“The Mujuru faction may be keeping a low profile for now, especially because Grace seems to be exposing herself at the rallies by, among other things, showing her immaturity. She has not been clever and has been exposing herself as a person who lacks depth, because everywhere she has been, she has been insulting people.”
Nkomo said the government should also come clean about who was funding Grace’s campaigns, given that the government was broke and could not even provide social services.”Wherever she goes, private or public, she should have security, and her staff and I attend in my capacity to protect the image of the president”