First Lady Grace Mugabe’s ongoing countrywide rallies have dealt a major blow on government business as ministers abandon their workstations to attend the whistle-stop tours.
Since the first leg of Grace’s rallies to thank Zanu PF supporters for endorsing her as Women’s League boss-designate in Chinhoyi two weeks ago, dozens of Cabinet ministers have been making a bee line to the rallies, leaving their offices manned by deputy ministers and permanent secretaries.
Cabinet ministers including Environment minister Savior Kasukuwere, Information minister Jonathan Moyo, Ignatius Chombo (Local Government), Oppah Muchinguri (Gender), Eunice Sandi-Moyo (Bulawayo Metropolitan Province), Edna Madzongwe (Senate President), Olivia Muchena (Higher Education) have attended almost all the rallies.
Opposition politician Dumiso Dabengwa on Wednesday accused the officials of failing to make a distinction between party business and their public service obligations.
The former Zipra intelligence supremo, who is now president of the opposition Zapu, told the Daily News that while the ministers would want to justify their actions by saying they are the ruling party, they were supposed to attend to party business in their own spare time not during working hours.
“It is unfortunate that Zanu PF has made it difficult to separate the party and the State and more often than not, its officials tend to confuse party business with their obligations to serve the public in a manner that is non-partisan,” Dabengwa told the Daily News.
“People do not expect to have literally the entire Cabinet trooping to the rallies after delegating duties to their subordinates for the whole week. It does not augur well for a government that is presiding over a falling economy”.
As Zanu PF officials compete to be part of Grace’s “praise and worship team” at the rallies that are currently being rolled out in Matabeleland provinces, even deputy ministers have not missed the opportunity to give their support.
Abigail Damasane, deputy Gender minister, for example, has so far attended all the rallies that have been held so far while Samuel Undenge, deputy Finance minister, Supa Mandiwanzira (Information) and Munacho Mutezo (Energy) all attended Grace’s Mutare rally last week.
Rugare Gumbo, the Zanu PF spokesperson declined to comment on the matter saying “the party is not responsible for the behaviour of ministers.” He referred further questions to Misheck Sibanda, the chief secretary to the president and Cabinet.
Sibanda was unreachable for comment.
With most of the ministers and government officials who have become part of Grace’s entourage just following proceedings at the rally without playing any significant role, critics have questioned the wisdom of leaving their offices in the first place.
A senior minister who spoke on condition of anonymity said while they would want to be in their offices working, being absent from the First Lady’s meetings would put them in an invidious position.
Grace has said there were party stalwarts who pretended to like the first family when they were plotting to topple the president. The minister admitted that their continued absence from duty was having a debilitating effect on efforts to revive the comatose economy.
“There is nothing most of us can do because those who do not attend will be bunched together and accused of seeking to block the Queen Mother’s political attendance,” said the senior government official