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Grace Mugabe's Political Ambitions Spark Debate on Mugabe Succession Plans

  • Thomas Chiripasi

FILE: Zimbabwe's First Lady Grace Mugabe addresses her maiden political rally in Chinhoyi after she was nominated to head the Zanu PF ruling party women's league two months ago, Oct. 2, 2014.

FILE: Zimbabwe's First Lady Grace Mugabe addresses her maiden political rally in Chinhoyi after she was nominated to head the Zanu PF ruling party women's league two months ago, Oct. 2, 2014.

First Lady Grace Mugabe’s entrance into national politics has generated a lot of debate about President Robert Mugabe’s succession plans at a time when his ruling Zanu PF party is being torn apart by internal fissures.

The first lady believes that she had a calling from God to lead the country although many Zimbabweans have mixed feelings over her surprise inclusion in the succession equation.

The president’s wife has just finished her meet the people tour, which touched on many hot political issues that have left the ruling party fragmented in a way never seen in the country before her entrance onto the political scene.

Initially it seemed many Zanu-PF supporters countrywide were embracing Grace Mugabe’s endorsement by Zanu PF’s Women League, to take over from Oppah Muchinguri as chairperson of the powerful organ, come the ruling party’s congress in December.

But by the end of the tour last Friday, Zanu PF youth in Manicaland and Mashonaland East in particular and from two opposing camps in the party had fought publicly with Mashonaland East’s provincial chairman, Ray Kaukonde, defying the first lady publicly and refusing to be part of a “unity accord” agreeing to work with Mrs. Mugabe and “end” factionalism.

At the beginning of the tour, she spoke tongue-in-cheek, attacking Vice President Joice Mujuru but towards the end it was clear she’s on a mission to destroy the ex-fighter and her ambitions to take over the leadership of Zanu PF from her ageing husband.

GRACE MUGABE BACKERS

Muchinguri publicly backed the first lady’s entrance into politics and others in the same camp within Zanu-PF too expressed confidence in the Mrs. Mugabe.

Among them, Mrs. Constance Shamu, wife of Information Communication Technology Minister, Webster Shamu, who says she expects the first lady to use her position as the new Women’s League boss to unite all women in the country.

The same cannot be said for her husband though, who did not attend her rallies, as Shamu is the party’s political commissar.

“We are expect good leadership from the first lady and we expect her to unite us as women because at times when children see a mother they expect to be united, at times when children are alone they are a disjointed lot so we expect her to unite us,” said Mrs. Shamu.

University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer, Charity Manyeruke, agrees, adding that contrary to belief that Mrs. Mugabe pushed herself into leadership, she in fact was asked by the Zanu PF women’s wing, to lead them.

Manyeruke says Mrs. Mugabe has proven herself as a leader. “In the party she bringing in organizational skills and so far she has demonstrated that she is a unifier. She is an anti-violence person if we look at her role in the 2013 elections, but also already speaking for unity in the party.

“She is bringing people that were in disagreement together and is encouraging them to be united and to develop the country and build the nation. She wants people to focus on economic development and she is a person who wants to build the state of Zimbabwe.”

MAOISM AND ZANU PF POLITICS

Forced or voluntary, many who have been hearing about the factions threatening the ruling party, have also concluded that the timing of Mrs. Mugabe’s entrance into politics, could be a ploy by the first family to secure Mr. Mugabe’s legacy. Among these is Tawanda Munetsi.

“I think this is a repeat of Mao’s era where we have a dynasty of a family running government at will and it’s a strategy to contain the two factions. They are claiming to be unifying the party but at the same time they are furthering the factional agendas within Zanu PF and apart from that they want to make sure that (President) Mugabe remains in control of Zimbabwe … and as they have already indicated they want a one party state and they are working on their grand plan of having a one party state,” said Munetsi.

Kuwadzana resident Memory Ncube agrees with Munetsi. “We strongly feel that (Mr.) Mugabe is taking this country as a family business hence he wants to leave his wife at the top of the realm and later on we won’t be surprised if Grace (Mrs. Mugabe) also leaves to her son at the helm so the women of Zimbabwe are not happy with this move.”

Ncube says Mrs. Mugabe’s involvement with the Mazowe orphanage and the Danhiko Project was her stepping stone into national politics.

“I strongly feel that those projects were a way of getting into politics and trying to lure women and disadvantaged communities and pretend to be a very helpful person to disadvantaged communities but she is obviously taking advantage of the situation; it was her entry into politics so it was well-calculated.”

SUCCESSION CHALLENGES

Sydney Chisi, director of the Youth Initiative for Democracy in Zimbabwe, says the first lady’s entry into national politics reflects on President Robert Mugabe’s failure to deal with the succession question.

For her part, Mrs. Mugabe has vowed to unite the Zanu PF factions that are battling to succeed her husband. But Chisi says the first lady is fast becoming another faction leader within the ruling party.

Chisi says, “(Mrs.) Grace Mugabe’s entry into politics is marred with controversy. It has nothing to do with taking over power from her husband but it also reflects on her husband’s failure to have dealt with issues of succession over a period of time and now he is debating and he is struggling to say what would be that thing that would take the movement forward.

“There is a very dangerous assumption that Mrs. Mugabe will manage the two factions between the Mnangagwa and the Mujuru factions yet in real sense, she has already taken sides in terms of factions. In all those rallies, you could not see anyone from the Mujuru faction which means that the Mujuru faction has already declared that Mrs. Mugabe belongs to the Mnangagwa faction and it would be very difficult for her to get into the power dynamics and power matrix without being tainted as a faction leader.”

Joining the sceptics are those who outrightly oppose Mrs. Mugabe’s new political role, specifically her controversial marriage to President Mugabe, which some say decimated her moral authority.

FIRST FAMILY MARRIAGE

Grace Marufu, who had a child with President Mugabe while then then First Lady Sally Mugabe was battling with kidney failure, married President Mugabe in 1996, after her death. Memory Ncube of Kuwadzana raises this issue.

“Definitely not because as far as we know, Grace was married to another man and she left that man to go and date President Mugabe while she was still married,” said Ncube, protesting against the first lady’s entrance into the political arena.

Chisi agrees with Ncube, saying this goes against Catholicism. “The church itself did not recognize Amai (Mrs) Mugabe as one of the people who can belong to different littages of the church, she is not part on any nzanga.

“She has basically remained very Zaoga which means that the issue of the church not accepting her as one of theirs because of the manner that she got married to (President) Robert Mugabe actually indicates that she is not suitable to become a mother to anyone let alone a mother within a nation that is marred with controversies, a nation marred with economic collapse.”

In addition to her moral character, many also see Mrs. Mugabe as a divisive figure.

DANGEROUS POLITICS

Media Centre director, Earnest Mudzengi, refers to Mrs. Mugabe’s public ridicule of Deputy Justice Minister, Fortune Chasi, at her recent rallies.

“That kind of politics is dangerous for we wouldn’t have expected such attacks from one person who should become president, at least she should be diplomatic and more tactful because she is the first lady. There was honestly a better way to deal with Chasi if had gone wrong rather that lampooning him in public.

“As early as yesterday she was saying she would spill blood and we should go past such kind of politics of spilling blood, we want politicians who will tackle issues not in a violent manner but in a democratic manner.”

Others also take issue with the first lady’s attainment of a doctorate degree from the University of Zimbabwe. Student activist Stephen Tshuma, sees this an as assault on education and a taint to her political career.

“This is all about position grabbing by Mrs. Mugabe to be morally and educationally accepted … that is exactly the scenario.”

While the first lady’s political entry has ruffled feathers in Zanu PF as the succession debate rages on, many women from both sides of the political divide expect her to urgently address issues that affect women and children on a daily basis.

Mrs. Mugabe is expected to officially take over as secretary of the Zanu PF Women’s League at the party’s congress in December this year. Her election will automatically propel her into the ruling party’s supreme decision making body between congresses, the Politburo.

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