IT is becoming increasingly clear that President Robert Mugabe’s wife, Grace, is very influential behind the scenes and may as well be positioning herself to take over from her husband whenever he finally goes given her growing power in her family, Zanu PF and government circles, ruling party insiders say.
Senior Zanu PF officials say Mugabe’s attack on his two appointed vice-presidents Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko at the party’s Youth League assembly meeting last weekend over factionalism and succession, and Grace’s boastful disclosures she controls and set the agenda for them, show a plot could be underway to ensure a dynastic successor takes over.
Mugabe, battling old age, ill-health and frailty, previously indicated before the expulsion of former vice-president Joice Mujuru that neither Mnangagwa nor her would eventually succeed him. The emergence of Grace and the power and influence she wields has changed succession dynamics. Her public remarks progressively suggest she wants to succeed her husband.
“There are a lot things happening within the Mugabe family, Zanu PF and in government showing Grace is positioning herself to take over in a dynastic arrangement,” a senior Zanu PF official said this week. “Mnangagwa might remain the frontrunner, with Mphoko breathing on his neck, but Grace could be a dark horse in this succession race.”
The impact of Grace’s influence was first felt during her countrywide “meet-the-people” rallies ahead of the controversial Zanu PF congress last December when she showed that she was running the show.
Evidence of this was there for all to see during the congress when Mugabe got carried away when he took to the stage to dissolve the Zanu PF central committee and started lecturing delegates about the liberation struggle. Grace intervened by writing a note advising him to take his seat, but after reading it he dutifully announced to delegates that his wife had told him to stop talking.
“My wife has written a note; she says I’m talking too much. That’s how I am treated even at home, so I must listen,” he said.
Mugabe also showed that he had no control over Grace when she forced him to call for a re-run of the central committee elections for Mashonaland East province. This was after the First Lady vehemently rejected the list of members that was presented to congress by former chairperson Simon Khaya Moyo.
The congress also showed that Grace is in charge in the background after Mugabe bowed down to her demands ahead of the event and to her public ultimatum to boot out Mujuru.
Events this week further confirmed that Grace has growing authority at three critical levels — at home, Zanu PF party and in government.
Grace shocked the nation when she revealed on Wednesday at a ground-breaking ceremony in Kadoma that the two vice-presidents report to her as she dictates issues and sets the agenda.
“The leadership of VPs has changed. It is different because in the short time that these two men have been appointed to office, I cannot count how many times I have sat down with them and discussed the development of Zimbabwe,” she said.
“They know that they must sit down with Amai to discuss about developmental issues. I support that. VP Mnangagwa, I support that and am sure you have lost count of the number of meetings we have had.
“But I tell you, Mnangagwa comes with a notebook, Mphoko comes with a notebook to listen to me. They know I am younger than them, but they appreciate that I am Amai and I have something to tell them about developing the nation.
“They will be taking down notes as I speak. I tell you, they will be jotting down notes as I speak so that the nation moves forward. I would like to tell them that I want that relationship to continue because that is the only way Zimbabwe can develop and become successful.”
Interestingly, before Mnangagwa left he scribbled a note as if to seek permission to leave. In February Mnangagwa admitted Grace is now a power broker.
“Until Amai Mugabe began those rallies, I think everybody was accepting that when we go to congress, Mai Mujuru will be confirmed as vice-president,” he told the state media then.
“But then when the First Lady began doing those rallies and revelations which were now coming out;, we were taken by storm and this was done within a period of less than four weeks, five weeks, thereabouts.”
In line with Grace’s demands, Mugabe dismissed Mujuru from government and the party, along with several ministers perceived to be aligned to her. This was after she said she would protest if Mugabe re-appointed her vice-president.
When it appeared that former Information minister Jonathan Moyo was on the ropes and on his way out, he bounced back as a major player clinging to her coattails in a well-choreographed ouster of Mujuru and her allies.
Mugabe had brutally attacked Moyo at national hero Nathan Shamuyarira’s funeral in June last year, calling him a “weevil” who was fomenting divisions in the party. He even hinted that he might fire him only for Moyo to come back as one of the masterminds working with Grace to topple Mujuru, paving the way for Grace to position herself to succeed Mugabe even though Mnangagwa and Mphoko remain ahead of her in the public perception.