Barely a year after officially entering politics and taking over the leadership of Zanu PF’s Women’s League, First Lady Grace Mugabe, is arguably now calling the shots in Zimbabwe and some party activists and observers are tipping her to take over the reins from her aging husband, President Robert Mugabe.
Initially not many people gave her a chance, thinking she was just the president's beautiful wife. But almost a year after taking over the leadership of the Women's League from Oppah Muchinguri, Mrs. Mugabe has taken the country by storm and many now believe she is positioning herself for the highest office in the land.
The first lady has literally dumped her perceived enemies in the party, among them former Vice President Joice Mujuru, former senior party and government ministers, Webster Shamu and Dzikamai Mavhaire, among others.
All those who have dared to criticize or oppose her ascendancy have been thrown out or suspended from the ruling party.
Dr. Amai, as she is now popularly known after attaining a doctoral degree under controversial circumstances, now has firm control on cabinet ministers and government institutions, though she is not in the government.
Political analysts and ordinary people agree that she is now a force to reckon with and that everything points to her gunning for the highest office, if she has her way.
Mrs. Mugabe once said she is capable of becoming a president like any other Zimbabwean though the first lady later turned around and indicated that she was not interested in this post, which has been held by her husband for more than 35 years.
Harare resident Michael Maweni says it is clear that Mrs. Mugabe is now in control of the party and Zimbabwe.
Maweni says the fact that cabinet ministers follow her as she visits most parts of the country addressing rallies, clearly indicates the authority she now commands in both the party and the government.
Nenyasha Moyo of Chitungwiza echoes the same sentiments saying Mrs. Mugabe is preparing herself for a top leadership position with the support of the so-called Generation 40 or G40 in Zanu PF fighting to block the ascendancy of Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa in the event that Mr. Mugabe leaves office.
“As far as I am concerned what she is doing replicates what she wants to do by the time we get to 2018 for the presidential elections,” says Moyo.
FULLY IN CHARGE
Lawmaker Priscilla Misihairambwi Mushonga of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change formation led by Welshman Ncube strongly believes that there is no doubt that the first lady is now fully in charge of the ruling party.
“… Grace ((Mrs. Mugabe) … My thoughts are that she is not closing in on the throne, she is in the throne.”
Misihairambwi Mushonga says this is part of President Mugabe's strategy, which no-one else understands.
Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director, Pedzisai Ruhanya, told a Southern African Political Economy Series meeting discussion on the First Lady recently that she will be powerful for as long as her husband is alive.
“Her power is derived from the president as the wife of the president, so she is a force to reckon with in so far as the president endorses or supports what she is doing. Without the support of the president and without using the authority of the president to intimidate her opponents, the first lady is not a political force.
According to Ruhanya, her entry into politics was a family strategy rather than a party strategy.
He says the the first lady has become so powerful in a short space time to the extent that her behavior and body language clearly show that he is aiming for the higher office.
Mrs. Mugabe is the first Zanu PF secretary for Women Affairs to hold countrywide rallies beamed live by the state broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, using state resources.
“It tells you that she has huge ambitions but what we may not know for now is the level of ambition. Is the ambition to be the head of the state, to be the vice president? We don't know because to be the head of state in Zanu PF is not a walk in the park.”
But political and social commentator Joel Makusha of the Great Zimbabwe University's Philosophy and Religious Studies, says the first lady is justified to move around the country meeting women, youths and other Zimbabweans while utilizing state resources.
Mukusha says Mrs. Mugabe is merely doing her work with the blessings of the her party.
“There is no way she is trying to take over or to succeed (Mrs. Mugabe), those are individual permutations, she is just doing the party's work so that the public is aware of her. She is known, she meets the people knowing their problems and the like. That's politics … It’s about power, where she is there is power.”
STATE RESOURCES VS PARTY DUTIES
Mukusha adds that her use of state resources could not be possible without the approval of her party and government.
“I think what she is doing is approved. There is no way she can plan to use a certain helicopter without the state knowing that, there are measures that are taken if you do things that are against the state. So, it means it’s approved, it’s known even by the government and what she is doing is beneficial to the society that's my own point of view.”
There are many, however, among political analysts and ordinary Zimbabweans, who believe that Mrs. Mugabe may find it very to difficult to command support in the former liberation party in the absence of her husband.
According to political commentator, Mlondolozi Ndhlovu and Ruhanya, Mr. Mugabe has the support of the military and it’s not yet clear if the former liberation fighters will support Mrs. Mugabe as Zanu PF's presidential candidate in national elections.