Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s wife Grace does not hide the fact that she is the one pulling the strings, as her 92-year-old husband hurtles towards the twilight of his rule.A few weeks, the First Lady organised a public rally to warn Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa to keep his ambitions to succeed the veteran ruler in check.The First Lady said she was surprised that people she had appointed were now plotting against President Mugabe.
The 50-year-old former typist accused Mr Mnangagwa’s allies of trying to bomb her dairy project and kill her youngest son.
She was making reference to a case where a leader of a little-known opposition party and a number of soldiers were arrested for allegedly plotting to petrol bomb the First Family’s dairy project near Harare.
“Is that fair to want to kill my son, Bellarmine, so as to intimidate us into handing over power to you? Can we go that far? You are mad,” she charged at the rally.
“There is no vacancy at State House. I am still there.”
The First Lady’s unprecedented attack on Mr Mnangagwa angered former fighters of the 1970s liberation war, who took to the streets of Harare on February 18, but they were brutally suppressed by the police.
The former fighters, who are believed to be loyal to the vice-president, said they were concerned that the centre was no “longer holding”, as their frustration grew over the First Lady’s increasing influence in the battle to succeed Zimbabwe’s only leader since independence.
A day after the savage attack on the war veterans by the police, President Mugabe was forced to apologise to them and also appealed to his followers to halt the succession war, threatening to tear the ruling party apart.
Joice Mujuru. PHOTO | BBC
President Mugabe’s call could have calmed tempers in the faction riddled Zanu-PF for now, but it left many drawing parallels between the way the First Lady hounded former Vice President Joice Mujuru out of government and Mr Mnangagwa’s troubles.
Mrs Mujuru, a veteran of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle and the first woman vice-president in the country, was in 2014 accused by the First Lady of plotting to kill her husband through witchcraft.
She was also accused of harbouring plans to parade the First Lady on the streets of Zimbabwe’s cities as a way of humiliating her.
The First Lady also claimed that Mrs Mujuru was secretly taped threatening to take away all the land President Mugabe’s family seized from white Zimbabweans to build a private school, an orphanage and a dairy project.
A Zimbabwean academic based in South Africa, Mr Dinizulu Mbikokayise Macaphulana, said it was becoming clear that the First Lady was worried about life after President Mugabe.
He said Zanu-PF party had a history of leaders eliminating each other to consolidate power, dating back to the days of the liberation struggle.
“Referring to the attempted bombing at her dairy farm at Mazowe, Grace Mugabe did not say her enemies wanted to kill her cows, but she said ‘they want to kill my children’.
“Because of the past of violence and killings that (President) Mugabe and (Mr) Mnangagwa come with from Zanu and its struggles within the struggle, Grace Mugabe fears for her children and their future, and that is why she finds herself together with those in Zanu-PF who equally hate the legacy of violence,” Mr Macapulana said.
The First Lady has been linked to a ruling party faction known as G40, which comprises Zanu-PF’s Young Turks that have no connection with the liberation struggle.
G40, whose suspected strategists rescued President Mugabe in the previous two elections with savvy advertising campaigns and messaging in contrast to the ruling party’s violent strategies of the past, has been locked in a fierce battle for the control of Zanu-PF with Mr Mnangagwa’s faction.
“Reading, manufacturing of public political consent with jingles, songs and beautiful, even if sometimes powerless ideas, is attractive to these so-called G40 characters,” Mr Macaphulana added.
“Most them are victims of violence and some are too young and smart enough to be ashamed of the political strategies of their parent generation.
“Grace Mugabe looks around (President) Mugabe and reads the stories of the past and typical of what blinkered mothers and wives do, she does not say ‘did you really do this?’
“Instead, she says your war time friends got you to do all this? She says to (President) Mugabe, ‘who is going to protect me and my children from all these angry victims that the politics of violence, the degrees in violence have created’.”
He said that made President Mugabe “feel guilty and wish that the so called G40 foxes were there 40 years ago to supply him with tricks, ideas and strategies of winning in politics without creation of dead bodies and producing angry enemies”.
President Mugabe often tries to project himself as neutral in the succession wars ravaging his party, but some observers say he sanctions the First Lady’s activities.
In an unscheduled state of the nation address on February 19, the President berated the former fighters for abusing his wife’s name.
He also spoke strongly against the War Veterans minister, Mr Christopher Mutsvangwa, saying he would be disciplined for organising the aborted demonstration.
President Mugabe’s response reinforced the belief that G40 has his blessings.
President Robert Mugabe, left, at his 92nd birthday party in February 2016.
“We are all being abused, the President, his wife, in a manner that is very disgraceful. It is a shame,” the President said in a strong rebuke of Mr Mutsvangwa.
One of President Mugabe’s liberation war associates and former Zanu-PF spokesperson, Mr Rugare Gumbo, said the First Lady was to blame for the former’s reluctance to step down.
Mr Gumbo was expelled from the ruling party in 2014 for allegedly supporting Mrs Mujuru and has been critical of the First Lady’s role in the succession battle.
“(President) Mugabe has consistently claimed the party would implode if he left, but the reality is that he wanted to develop a Gushungo (the president’s totem) dynasty,” he said.
“He wants his relatives, including his wife, to take over.
“When he married Grace, some of us realised disaster had befallen the country because we knew she would not allow him to leave power.”
President Mugabe married Grace in 1996, a few years after the death of his first wife, Ghana-born Sally.
The Zimbabwean ruler had an affair with the then typist, while Sally was dying of a kidney ailment.
Grace is loathed in Zimbabwe for her penchant for shopping and coarse language at public events.
In 2014, she was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy Degree (PhD) by the University of Zimbabwe amid claims that she had only studied at the institution for less than six months.
The First Lady was capped by her husband, and shortly after the controversial graduation, she began work on changing the trajectory of President Mugabe’s succession debate.
Mrs Mujuru, who appeared to be the front runner, was immediately jettisoned out of the ruling party and government.
Speculation was now rife that a similar fate would befall Mr Mnangagwa, as President Mugabe could settle for a compromise candidate to succeed him.
The University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer, Prof Eldred Masunungure, said the First Lady’s recent outbursts could signal that the President was ready to sacrifice Mr Mnangagwa.
“It seems (President) Mugabe is saying (Mr) Mnangagwa is no longer a vital cog in his political machinery,” he told The Standard newspaper.
“This is probably the clearest illustration of the saying ‘there are no permanent friends or enemies in politics’.
“He (President Mugabe) might be looking at someone with probably the same credentials as (Mr) Mnangagwa, someone like (Defence minister Sydney) Sekeramayi.”
Prof Masunungure said despite the escalating infighting in Zanu-PF, the President may not act for now.
“He will remain silent as long as the factions are fighting to inherit his throne rather that remove him,” he added.
“We saw that in the past with the (Mrs) Mujuru and (Mr) Mnangagwa fight, he turned a blind eye because it suited him.
“We have, however, seen a significant shift of strategy, with the G40 now accusing the Lacoste (Mr Mnangagwa’s faction) of trying to oust (President) Mugabe and this is when we are likely to see him spring to action and say now you have crossed the red line.”
President Mugabe has already been endorsed by Zanu-PF to stand for another term in 2018, which according to the country’s constitution should be the last.