Zimbabwe’s first lady Grace Mugabe resumed her countrywide rallies Thursday in the high density suburb of Mbare, Harare, and brought the suburb to a standstill as businesses were forced to shut down.
Mrs. Mugabe is the ruling Zanu-PF Women’s League secretary. The Associated Press reports that the first lady told the crowd at Chishawasha grounds that she was skipping some of her meals to empathize with Zimbabweans who could only afford to eat once a day.
Around 1.5 million Zimbabweans are likely to go hungry this year after a dramatic fall in maize production, the World Food Programme (WFP) has warned. Some 16% of the populations are expected to be “food insecure” at the peak of the 2015-16 lean season, the period following harvests when food stocks run especially low – a 164% increase on the previous year, the WFP said.
Mrs. Mugabe walked back on her criticism of the war veterans and said she respects them.
Addressing party supporters at a rally at Chimhanda Secondary School in Rushinga, Mashonaland Central, last month where she also declared the province was a no-go area for opposition parties, Mrs. Mugabe warned the disciplinary arm of the party would deal with errant war veterans even if they were distinguished liberation war fighters.
“People will start to say yes you went to war, but were you forced to participate because of your behavior?” she asked. “Some will say because I went to war then I have a right to do whatever I want. Are you the only one who went to war? There are others who fought in that liberation war and are still toeing the party line.”
Mrs. Mugabe sought to “clarify” her position saying she only has problems with war veterans pushing factional agendas and who had plotted to demonstrate against her saying, “I will not allow them to do that. I like war veterans. I stay with the greatest war veteran at home (Mugabe)”
The first lady touched on familiar themes such as factionalism, corruption and took a swipe at the West for attempting to destabilize the nation.
On the controversial tractors that she has been dishing out at her rallies, Mrs. Mugabe said she is distributing them to cooperatives and they are not free. She has taken flak for distributing tractors acquired by the government from Brazil at party rallies.
There was also drama when Mrs. Mugabe introduced Mbare Member of Parliament Tendai Savanhu and urged the people to forgive and work with them. But Mbare residents expressed dismay in working with Savanhu.
The party supporters in the province want him to leave after he was suspended for five years from the party for working with the ousted former Vice President Joice Mujuru.
The first lady denied reports linking her to the presidency of the party telling the Zanu PF faithful that she is not harboring ambitions to succeed her husband, pledging instead to support the 91-year-old's next presidential bid.
"I am standing here as the wife of the president as well as the person you chose to lead the women's league. It ends there; I do not need any other position."
Political analyst Pedzisayi Ruhanya, director of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute told VOA Studio 7 Mrs. Mugabe’s mission is to show Mr. Mugabe is still very much in charge.
“I think it is a programme that is done with the full knowledge and agreement of President Robert Mugabe and anything that the first lady is doing largely should be understood as a project of the president. Fundamentally to send a message that he is in charge, and not willing to relinquish power.”
The first lady is headed to Midlands Province on Friday. She has already been to Matabelaland North, Mashonaland West, Mashonaland Central and East. On Saturday she will be in Murewa.