AFTER her dramatic and controversial entry into mainstream politics, President Robert Mugabe’s wife Grace has disappeared from public view and is now failing to fulfil her party constitutional obligations and other duties as the Zanu PF Women’s League boss amid reports that she is ill.
Since the beginning of the year Grace has only made sporadic public appearances. She has been seen in public on a few occasions since the controversial Zanu PF congress in December last year which endorsed her as head of the powerful Women’s League.
Grace was conspicuously absent yesterday at the Mashonaland Central land reform top producers field tour inaugural launch at the Grace Mugabe Foundation Farm in Mazowe, where she was awarded the best agricultural producer for the 2014/15 season.
The award was presented to farm manager Stanley Nhari on behalf of Grace by guest of honour, Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo.
Her absence at the event has set tongues wagging as Zimbabweans speculate on her whereabouts at a time her husband continues to globe-trot alone. Mugabe left for Nigeria yesterday for today’s inauguration of Muhammadu Buhari as president.
Grace was last seen at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair in Bulawayo where she toured stands together with her Zambian counterpart Esther Lungu on April 30.
The few occasions on which Grace has appeared in public include attending the February 18 Zanu PF politburo meeting which expelled former secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa and his nephew Temba Mliswa, and another on April 1 when former vice-president Joice Mujuru was expelled. She also took the Zambian First Lady on a tour of her orphanage and school, and the family’s Omega dairy farm in Mazowe on April 29.
Grace accompanied her husband to South Africa on a state visit between April 7 and 9.
The last time she addressed a Zanu PF crowd was upon her return from an extended holiday in Singapore in February at the Harare International Airport. She told them the appendectomy she underwent was the third operation after the first one in 1986 to remove tonsils, and a second one in 1996 for gall bladder removal.
Otherwise, she has withdrawn from the public domain and chosen to retreat to her “blue-roof” mansion in the leafy Borrowdale suburb when she is in the country.
Because of this, as well as the unexplained true nature and extent of her illness, speculation continues to swirl about her well-being and what this means for Mugabe, Zanu PF and the country. In the last two weeks, Grace has missed three key events — the politburo meeting last Thursday; the widely advertised official launch of the International Day of Families in Masvingo last Friday where she was supposed to be guest of honour but was instead represented by Acting Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development minister Sithembiso Nyoni; and the field tour of her farm in Mazowe yesterday.
Top Zanu PF sources told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that Grace was unwell and outside the country in the Far East. They said she has been failing to fulfil her party constitutional duties as secretary for the Women’s League and other tasks.
“The First Lady is not well. Since December when she became Women’s League boss she has not called for a single meeting, which is in contravention of the party constitution,” said a senior Zanu PF official.
“Because she has been unwell, the president has not been able to fill the position of Mnister of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development.”
According to section 151 of the party constitution, “there was shall be a national executive council (for women) which, subject to the overriding authority of the Central Committee of the party, shall be the principal organ for the implementation of the policies of the party and the administration of the affairs of the Women’s League.
“The national executive council shall be constituted by the secretary for the Women’s League, other secretaries and deputies as provided for hereunder, chairpersons of provincial executive committees of the Women’s League who shall be ex-officio members.
“The national executive council shall convene in ordinary session once every two months.”
The constitution also states that among her duties, Grace is supposed to preside over sessions of the National Assembly and the national executive council of the Women’s League.
Women’s League national spokesperson Monica Mutsvangwa was not reachable yesterday, while party national spokesperson Simon Khaya Moyo did not pick up his phone when called for comment. Presidential spokesperson George Charamba was also unreachable.
Grace had to postpone a meeting with 10 provincial affairs ministers to her orphanage two weeks ago, which party insiders said was meant to herald the start of another round of rallies reminiscent of those she undertook at the end of last year prior to the party congress, as renewed factionalism escalates in the party.
Last year, she embarked on countrywide rallies dubbed “meet-the-people” tours during which she unleashed volleys of acerbic attacks on Mujuru, accusing her of a host of offences chief among them a plot to topple or kill her husband, and demanded that she resigns from government.
Shortly afterwards Mujuru was fired along with several other ministers and party heavyweights including Mutasa, Energy minister Dzikamai Mavhaire and party spokesperson Rugare Gumbo.
Politburo member Oppah Muchinguri on March 26 confirmed Grace was unwell and had gone out of the country for treatment but did not give details on the extent of her illness. According to close family members, the First Lady is battling colon cancer contrary to her claims that she only had an operation to remove a nagging appendix.
Although he tried to downplay Grace’s illness, Mugabe, who is also struggling with old age and health complications, was the first to break the news of his wife’s condition when he returned in January without her after a six-week holiday with his family in the Far East.
However, family sources say about 30cm of her colon (large intestine) affected by cancer was removed in an operation in Singapore during the annual holiday.