IN a political development likely to shake the ruling Zanu PF party to its core ahead of its youth and women’s league congresses next month, President Robert Mugabe’s wife Grace is manoeuvring to enter the political fray by occupying the post of Women’s League boss.
Faith Zaba/Wongai Zhangazha
Zanu PF is scheduled hold its main elective congress in December.
Grace’s entrance onto the political stage could change the dynamics of the succession matrix in Zanu PF, considering that the Women’s League has been powerful in influencing critical decisions in the party.
Women’s League chief Oppah Muchinguri, together with senior Zanu PF women in the provincial executives and politburo, is actively going around the provinces canvassing support for Grace — who celebrated her 49th birthday on Wednesday — to be appointed secretary for women’s affairs, a position she currently holds.
Mugabe appoints the secretary for women’s affairs, together with 62 other politburo members.
Zanu PF insiders in the Women’s League told the Zimbabwe Independent the league is lobbying for Grace to be appointed their leader as they did in 2004 when they influenced an amendment in the party constitution that catapulted Vice-President Joice Mujuru to the number two position in the presidium ahead of her arch-rival, Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Mnangagwa at the time had the backing of the required more-than-five provinces to be elected to the presidium.
The proposal was hatched by president of the Senate Edna Madzongwe at a women’s caucus meeting in Mashonaland West a week ago, and now has the full backing of Mashonaland West Women’s League chairperson Constance Shamu and her counterparts in other provinces.
A source said more than 3 000 district chairpersons from all provinces are scheduled to meet in Mazowe at the First Lady’s orphanage and state-of-the art school to consolidate their support.
“Zanu PF politics is now taking a new dimension, which is radically going to change the balance of power in the party. Both camps (led by Mujuru and Mnangagwa) were caught unawares and they are likely to struggle to regroup,” she said.
“Right now as we speak, buses have been dispatched to all provinces to ferry district chairpersons to a meeting of ladies in Mazowe. Here, I am talking about at least 3 000 district chairpersons from the women’s League converging in Mazowe. Some provinces have 300 or more districts, so multiply that by 10 provinces.”
Another Women’s League official said: “This is going to change everything in Zanu PF. Mai Madzongwe made the proposal and Oppah Muchinguri is now running with it. So you can see nothing is fait accompli in Zanu PF. This is going to cause a major upset in the two (Mnangagwa and Mujuru) camps.”
The source pointed out that for her support, Muchinguri was promised by the women that they would also lobby Mugabe to appoint her secretary for administration, which is currently held by Didymus Mutasa, who has thrown his hat into the ring for the chairmanship.
Zanu PF national chairperson Simon Khaya Moyo is tipped to take over from the late Vice-President John Nkomo, who died in January last year.
However, there are a few stumbling blocks for Grace, including lack of experience in politics and the stringent rules and regulations recently endorsed by the politburo which party sources say are aimed at preventing the party from being destroyed from within.
According to the rules and regulations, candidates for the central committee, from which Mugabe appoints the politburo, must have served in the party structures for 15 consecutive years.
However, according to the Zanu PF constitution, 10 members are nominated by the presidency on account of their outstanding contribution to either the armed struggle or the country’s development after Independence.
The women’s league is pushing for Grace to be among the 10 that Mugabe l appoints.
Led by Grace, the Zanu PF Women’s League in 2004 proposed that one of the three senior positions in the ruling party should be allocated to a woman. Mugabe backed the move.
Thus Grace was influential behind the scenes, together with Muchinguri, in propelling Mujuru to the vice-presidency ahead of the Mnangagwa.
Mnangagwa had managed to solicit the support of Manicaland, Masvingo, Matabeleland North, Bulawayo, Matabeleland South, Mashonaland West, Midlands and Mashonaland Central for the vice-presidency, but the constitution was amended to accommodate a woman as one of Mugabe’s deputies.
However, Zanu PF sources say Mujuru has since fallen out with Grace and Muchinguri. The fallout with Grace was allegedly over the Mazowe farm. It is widely speculated in Zanu PF circles that Mujuru threatened to take over the Mazowe farms which were acquired by the First Family for its dairy project, orphanage and school.
The move to have Grace appointed Women’s League boss will hurt the Mujuru faction, which seemed certain that its candidates SK Moyo and Mutasa were going to be elected to the presidium.
Said a close Mujuru ally: “We have heard of the manoeuvres but how will she get in when she does not meet the criteria for candidates for the central committee. These people are just trying to stop Mujuru, who is the most senior to succeed Mugabe, from getting the top job.”
Whilst Grace has been coy about her political ambitions, she has come out of her shell to fight on the frontline, particularly during election campaigns. She has also become an influential figure as she battles to ensure that the interests of the First Family are secured when Mugabe eventually leaves office.
Lately, Grace has been interacting with the women’s league, communities and general public. She also plans to build a secondary school and university.
Efforts to talk to Muchinguri were futile as she was said by her aide to be in senate and her phone later switched off.