FIRST Lady Grace Mugabe may not be the accomplished orator with the skills of an erudite Barack Obama or Martin Luther King, but her bulldozing and crude methods, shouting and hurling all manner of invectives at real and imagined opponents, have worked like a charm in making her the most powerful politician in the country after her husband President Robert Mugabe in just one year — at least for now.
Hate her or like her, Grace, who first stormed the political scene in 2014 with her so-called “meet-the-people” rallies which set the stage for the ouster of then vice-president Joice Mujuru, has seen her stock continue to soar in 2015.
Mujuru, alongside other government and party heavyweights like former Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo and secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa, were fired at her instigation over untested allegations of plotting the ouster and assassination of Mugabe.
Going after Mujuru was a huge gamble considering the latter’s long history with Zanu PF and the liberation struggle, in which she is regarded as one of the country’s most distinguished female fighters.
She also has a long track record in government, being one of three persons alongside Emmerson Mnangagwa and Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi to have served in Mugabe’s successive governments since Independence before her ouster.
But there was no abating to the Grace’s devastating political tsunami — in fact its intensity is gathering momentum again — and now she has her sights firmly trained on Mnangagwa, another veteran of the liberation struggle and a man who has barely left Mugabe’s side ever since he was appointed special assistant to the President at Zanu PF’s Chimoio congress which brought him to the helm of the party in 1977.
Mnangagwa is widely considered the master of political survival, having rode out the storm triggered by the so-called Tsholotsho Declaration, where six provincial chairpersons were suspended from the party for a five-year period on allegations of plotting to remove Mugabe.
Mnangagwa has outlasted Mujuru in their long-running and bruising contest to succeed Mugabe but just when it appeared the way had been cleared for him to take over, along came Grace. “The Herald lied that I said I am junior to Vice-President Mnangagwa,” thundered Grace during her most recent rally in Masvingo early this month.
“I never said he is my senior. I just said I respect him as the VP and that he is more experienced than me. I might be new in Zanu PF, but I am not junior to anyone. I am the wife of the President. I am humble, I say baba (father) to Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko, but he knows I am senior. Some also question why I sit at the front in the politburo near President Mugabe. It is my right to sit at the front in the politburo because VaMugabe is my husband.”
Indeed, Mugabe is Grace’s husband and she draws her power and influence directly from him — an advantage Mnangagwa does not enjoy.
Government operations have been paralysed this year as cabinet ministers were frequently away from work attending Grace’s rallies. Vehicles of senior party officials have been emblazoned with her images while there has been a proliferation of tee-shirts bearing her image and the slogan, “munhu wese kuna amai (everyone to the mother)”.
Apart from symbolic gestures like conferring her with the “Excellency” title which is the preserve of elected leaders of government worldwide, Grace’s actual power was demonstrated in the manner that she took over state resources and donated government-sourced equipment and maize as her own at her rallies.
Ironically, Mnangagwa had the unpleasant task of defending his latest nemesis, telling opposition legislators in parliament that she was not donating but merely handing over the tractors on behalf of the state — notwithstanding the fact that Grace is not a government official.
Grace may not be an erudite academic who has studied history and followed the rise of historical personalities like Niccolo Machiavelli or Napoleon Bonaparte often regarded as classic examples of opportunistic schemes. But whatever she may lack by way of formal study of history, she appears to be making up for it through actions which resemble the manner in which these individuals plotted and schemed their way to power.
Political analyst, lawyer and author Petina Gappah probably spoke for many when she described Grace as a mediocre and arrogant person. “There are no limits to Grace’s arrogance. She can tell an engineer how to build a bridge. It is a grave situation,” Gappah said while addressing a public discussion in Harare last week. However, arrogant or even mediocre she maybe, it is exactly how many other historical characters were viewed by their peers who under-estimated them to their own peril.
Adolf Hitler’s opponents saw in him nothing more than a derisive madman who had spent part of his adult life as a tramp in the streets of the Austrian capital Vienna. His first attempt to organise a coup in a beer hall in Munich only landed him in prison. Yet the same Hitler would achieve power by 1933, on the back of genocidal and fiery hate speeches directed at Jews, communists and other opponents.
Napoleon Bonaparte and later his nephew Louis Napoleon both achieved power in 19th century France largely as a consequence of being under-estimated by their more illustrious adversaries.
This is the copybook that Grace appears to have read from and would like to imitate. What is clear is that she has been on the rise over the last 12 months. It remains to be seen if Zanu PF will adopt a resolution calling for a quota system in which one of the vice-presidents is reserved for a woman, which could prove to be her springboard to power even it is now said she has no such ambitions. Grace’s G40 allies say she is a stalking horse for one of their key leaders, particularly Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi.