FAMED American author Mark Twain once remarked “it is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt”. Never a truer word has ever been spoken to describe the on-going Zanu PF political melodrama in which First Lady Grace Mugabe has all but removed any doubt about her unsuitability for leadership.
Ostensibly at the instigation of outgoing Zanu PF Women’s League boss Oppah Muchinguri and a coterie of other party politicians, mostly linked to the faction led by Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, Grace traversed the country’s 10 provinces from the second to the 17th of this month holding rallies. In that short space of time she has provided an insight into her inner political insights as well as her own potential as a would-be party leader — a picture which is certainly not pretty at all.
“Today is an important day for me as it is a day I was asked by women in the country to kick-start my political career,” she said during her maiden rally in husband President Robert Mugabe’s home province of Mashonaland West, adding “factionalism will get us nowhere. If what we are hearing is true, then those who are doing it are a shame to the party”.
At that rally she also addressed her receipt of a controversial Doctorate of a Philosophy degree by the University of Zimbabwe (UZ), widely described as scandalous, correctly observing that “you might have the title, but fail to garner the respect from the people . . . I can be called First Lady or Doctor Mugabe and put certificates on the walls of my house, but that certificate is not the one that will work”.
Perhaps not surprisingly given her ill-fated attempt over a decade ago to obtain an English undergraduate degree with the University of London, the irony was totally lost on Grace who used the rest of her “Meet-the-People-tour” during which she certainly met many people but openly insulted some of them”.
She crudely used the tours to vilify, vituperate and threaten her opponents in the party, particularly Vice-President Joice Mujuru — this more than anything else underlined clearly the internal misadventure of giving her public space as she has used it to show why she is not only divisive, but even more importantly, unsuitable for serious leadership.
Did her intemperate language which includes unbridled attacks on senior party leaders, some of whom joined the party and led the nationalist movement while she was still in her diapers, go anyway towards achieving Grace and her backers’ stated purpose of ending factionalism and unifying Zanu PF?
Is Grace after all that any closer to garnering the respect she said is more important than degrees through this orgy of brazen insults of her superiors which under normal circumstances would have resulted in an appearance before a disciplinary committee?
According to Godwin Phiri, a Bulawayo-based political analyst, “rather than heal factional rifts, Grace’s public rants have exposed the deeper undercurrents of internal strife within Zanu PF in which Mujuru has been seen as challenging Mugabe’s stranglehold on power — the shield which is also safeguarding Grace and her family’s personal interests. This challenge is a threat to Grace and so she is saying I will not allow it to continue or succeed”.
Phiri added: “What she has been doing is that she is acting like a bull in a China shop going into the fight to protect her personal interests with all her fangs barred but whether that will work or not is difficult to tell.”
And given that the thread running through Grace’s speeches was the focus on the vice-presidency characterised by attacks on Mujuru, Phiri may well be right that rather than confront factionalism Grace is more interested in fighting off a challenge to Mugabe she sees as coming from his deputy.
“Some think because you are vice-president, you just stay there and do nothing while Mugabe works for you,” Grace said in her Gwanda rally in Matabeleland South on October 13 in a clear public attack on Mujuru.
“We want a vice-president who helps the President, not just one who piggybacks on Mugabe’s back. We no longer want that. We want people who are capable. You mustn’t think because you have a post you are there forever. You must work for it.”
This was later followed by one of the most vitriolic attacks on Mujuru in her own backyard of Mashonaland Central province with Grace describing her as a “demon” that had not only given birth to factionalism but assisted in the formation of the MDC and Simba Makoni’s Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn party.
“You lead a faction, you are involved in murky diamond deals, you own shares in several companies. Who is corrupt me or you? So I told the President if he does not dump her, we will dump her ourselves.”
It got worse. Grace went on the rampage, accusing Mujuru of abuse of office,subversion,corruption,illicit diamond dealings, extortion, blackmailing corporates and demanding 10% equities, theft and plotting to oust Mugabe.
Even with these attacks on Mujuru, amid swirling rumours that Grace is working to torpedo the Vice-President’s bid to succeed Mugabe, can it be said that Grace will succeed in her mission or is she presidential material herself? According to political analyst Ibbo Mandaza, Grace and her backers are unlikely to achieve their objectives “because there is no way they can stop Mujuru, she is through the door already. They are trying to close the stable door after the horse has bolted.”
Another analyst Alex Magaisa weighed in arguing that far from being presidential or leadership material Grace is a “political amateur” who “appears incapable of properly controlling her emotions and is therefore easily offended — a person who is insecure and probably suffers an inferiority complex”.
“Power in the hands of an individual who demonstrates emotional recklessness and insecurity can be very dangerous,” said Magaisa in his observations carried on Monday on the Facebook platform.
Zanu PF is a party with a long history of divisions and if they had been handled in Grace’s highly retributive and vituperative manner surely the party would have collapsed by now, she said. If Grace and her backers assumed that she would come across as an awe-inspiring leader whose threats would cow opponents into submission, nothing could be further from the truth as demonstrated even by Mashonaland East chairperson who publicly laughed off Grace’s attempts at a “unity accord”.
The First Lady also had a torrid time in Manicaland as youths refused to be cowed or allow her to humiliate their provincial leaders. Likewise youths in Mashonaland East also voiced concern over the use of her “down with gamatox” slogan, targeted at a key Mujuru ally Didymus Mutasa.
There was a shouting match with some youths shouting “down with weevils”, remarks which were targeted at Grace’s backers, who include Jonathan Moyo, whom in June Mugabe described as a “weevil” for allegedly trying to destroy the party from within during the burial of late national hero Nathan Shamuyarira.
From being a potential unifier of Zanu PF as projected by her most vociferous and visible supporter Muchinguri, Grace’s unrestrained language painted a picture of someone emotionally unstable, quarrelsome, lacking composure and a vindictive politician who can only fuel further intra-party divisions rather unite the party.
Her rallies were a public relations disaster of monumental proportions.