By Sij Ncube
HARARE, NOVEMBER 25, 2015 – PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s wife, Grace, has in the past week crisis-crossed the length and breadth of Zimbabwe spewing vitriol against perceived enemies while doling out freebies to the Zanu PF faithful and other opportunists during the continuation of her so-called meet-the-people rallies as debate rages on her political ambitions.
She kicked off her rallies in Mbare, Harare’s oldest and poverty-stricken township and a perceived opposition stronghold. She promised that no one would die of hunger, before donating rice and other goodies to the impoverished urban-dwellers, among them opposition supporters allegedly lured by her “benevolence.”
Grace then ventured into Mataga, Mberengwa where she startlingly revealed that she had no presidential ambitions and intimated vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa stood in steady to take over from Mugabe, citing the Zanu PF and Zimbabwe’s constitution.
Before the ink was dry as people debated her Mbare speech, Grace addressed another well-attended rally in Murehwa, Mashonaland East, where she claimed even the presidential residence experienced annoying power-cuts before launching into her usual political rhetoric.
In the meantime, Mugabe was content with officiating at state universities, capping graduates at Bindura, Midlands and Lupane state universities respectively.
Observers note that during Mugabe’s capping of graduates Zanu PF’s political big-wigs were conspicuous by their absence as they all made a beeline to Grace’s rallies while her husband was in the company of lowly politicians and civil servants. Some of Grace rallies clashed with her husband’s graduation functions but it did not stop her using the presidential helicopter as well as top security details.
Critics have rightly or wrongly claimed Grace is eclipsing her husband as she seeks to be the heir apparent or the king-maker when the veteran Zanu PF leader eventually decides to exit the political scene despite all the party’s political provinces endorsing the 91-year old as the party’s presidential candidate for 2018.
But analysts are agreed Grace’s pulling power confirms she is the real centre of power in Zanu PF and the government which has seen the country’s two vice presidents attending her latest rallies without fail, including vice president Phelekezela Mphoko who they say has had no qualms of driving more than 1000 kilometers to and from Bulawayo to merely introduce Grace at public gatherings.
Respected political analyst, Alex Magaisa, believes due to old age and suspected health concerns, Mugabe is ruling through Grace.
“This is a partnership that has been extended from the bedroom, onto the political platform, with Grace doing the shift on behalf of her husband,” said Magaisa.
“All these things that Grace is doing would have been done by Mugabe but they realise he cannot keep up with the pace of events. So he is merely doing them through Grace. It’s not Grace eclipsing her husband, rather its Grace helping her husband to continue in power for as long as possible even if it means him acting and performing through her agency,” he said.
Obert Gutu, the spokesperson for the MDC-T, is adamant the sun is setting on Mugabe’s very long political career hence Grace is attracting nearly everyone from Zanu PF.
“Every right-thinking person knows that Mugabe is approaching the end of his career. This is why every Tom, Dick and Harry in Zanu PF is now desperate to be seen as Grace Mugabe’s supporter. She is undoubtedly the new centre of power in that faction – ridden political party,” charged Gutu, a lawyer by profession.
Gutu believes Zanu PF chefs follow her not because they like her or respect her but out of fear of the unknown.
“The fact of the matter is that most of those people have no genuine support for Grace. Zanu PF has always been run on the basis of patronage. If you want to be at the feeding trough, you have to be seen to be close to the centre of power. However, all this will end soon because Grace Mugabe is wearing borrowed robes. As soon as Robert Mugabe physically exists the political scene, she will be doomed. Her power is just but temporary.”
Bekithemba Mhlanga, a political analyst based in the United Kingdom, thinks Grace’s strength is derived from Mugabe at the moment.
“Everyone knows that coming out and challenging her directly is akin to challenging Robert and that can have dire consequences. Just ask (former vice president Joice) Mujuru. But those around her also know that she is a braai stick for now – they will discard her when the time is right. She is a useful barrier to the throne,” said Mhlanga