The entrance of Zimbabwe’s First Lady Grace Mugabe into politics may have come as a surprise to many, but it is not unprecedented; her predecessor was very active in Zanu PF’s Women’s League just as she seeks to be, but not only that, her involvement in Zanu PF’s succession matrix is increasingly beginning to mirror that of her counterpart from a different time and continent — Jiang Qing, Mao Zedong’s last wife and China’s former first lady.
The Zanu PF Women’s League, in a surprise development, nominated Grace Mugabe to be their boss at a meeting at her Mazowe farm last month. This has further divided Zanu PF with one camp strongly opposed to her ascendancy saying that promotes dynastic politics.
Zanu PF, however, has two main camps, one allegedly led by Vice-President Joice Mujuru and the other by Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, who are battling to succeed Mugabe when he retires or is incapacitated.
Mao, the first leader of the People’s Republic of China, in his later years, presided over a political party and government whose officials were separated by a wedge of division caused by a dangerous and ever growing poisonous mushroom of factionalism.
In a perilous political world of plots, conspiracies, counter plots and counter conspiracies, Jiang — at one time Mao’s personal secretary — emerged as an important player on the field of political scheming when she formed a powerful faction that controlled most aspects of government in China during Mao’s later years called the Gang of Four.
After Mao’s death she was arguably one of the most important players in an internecine battle of succession politics that eventually led to her imprisonment.
While Grace may not be as powerful as Jing was, she has most certainly become a factor in Zanu PF’s kaleidoscopic succession matrix. It cannot be argued that her entrance on the stage of politics has shifted power dynamics in the ruling party in a very significant way.
If she manages to climb the ladder of power to lend herself the top post in the Women’s League, she would have added authority to what she already has — influence.
Currently, Grace has influence stemming from the fact that she is very close to the president but she has no authority. Influence, unlike authority, is the ability of someone to cause people to act in a certain way that is not necessarily associated with a post that legally gives someone power.
Authority on the other hand has to do with power that comes from holding a certain post or position.
As secretary of the Women’s League, if she manages to attain this post, Grace will now have authority — plus her already existing influence — to carry out very successful political manoeuvres.
This will make her an extremely important person in Zanu PF’s succession battle as being the Women’s League boss will mean control of this important party wing.
If speculation that she is supporting one of the major factions involved in the succession race is true, this means that the faction she is allegedly siding with has an upper hand as they can use Grace as a trump card.
That being said, and taking the political activities of her counterpart Jiang as an example, succession politics which involves massive factional fighting can be very dangerous.
Like every competition of life, at the end of it all, a succession race has a winner and a loser. If history is anything to go by, it usually does not end well for the losing faction.
In Russia, after the death of Vladmir Lenin, his successor, Joseph Stalin, took time to destroy all those who had competed against him in the succession race either politically or biologically.
This meant assassinations and re-composition of party structures such as the politburo to make sure that all erstwhile power contenders and those that supported them were weeded out of party structures and politically neutralised.
Because she is the First Lady, many may be tempted to think that Grace is immune from any blow-back that could result from her alleged involvement in factional politics, but that is not necessarily true.
Jiang assumed that her history with Mao would protect her from any serious dangers related to her political activities, but she could have never been more incorrect.
After Mao’s death, her faction failed to secure power and she was arrested and humiliated. Many occasions in history have proven that the victors in a succession race always seek to totally destroy those who competed against them for power so that they cease to be a threat in the future.
If history is to repeat itself with regards to Zanu PF’s succession race and its aftermath, Grace has to make sure that her alleged faction takes the reins. If it fails to do so, she could find herself in trouble.
Mushawatu is a University of Zimbabwe political science and administrative studies graduate.