First Lady Grace Mugabe’s entry into the political arena has pulled the rug from under Vice-President Joice Mujuru’s feet This was apparent in the subdued way the 4 000 delegates to the 6th Zanu PF Women’s League congress, officially opened by President Robert Mugabe at the Harare International Conference Centre (HICC) yesterday, received the Vice-President’s entry into the venue.
In contrast, Grace literally brought the house down when she was asked to greet the gathering amid chants of “Amai, Amai, Amai (Mother, Mother, Mother!)”
As if to show Mujuru that the centre of power had shifted seismically, the delegates burst into thunderous applause when current Women’s League boss Oppah Muchinguri introduced the First Lady.
Grace was joined by Muchinguri in singing a song that touched on the struggle of women to better the lives of their families.
Muchinguri — believed to be eyeing the post of secretary for administration or the vice-presidency currently held by Didymus Mutasa and Mujuru respectively, after co-opting Grace to take over as Women’s League boss — also got loud cheers from the women as she delivered her opening speech to the three-day conference.
The opening day was a tense affair as bootlicking went gears up as protagonists subtly mocked and taunted each other through music, speech and slogans in front of party leader Mugabe.
The body language and typical frowning gestures exhibited by some of the women leaders at the conference all but confirmed reports of the deep-seated factionalism that has permeated ruling party structures ahead of its December elective congress.
The bone of contention, according to insiders, revolves around the party’s two centres of power – Mujuru and Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa — both believed to be angling to succeed the 90-year-old Mugabe.
The party’s succession race took another twist recently with the emergence of Grace into the political equation when she was nominated as a potential candidate to represent the Women’s League in the politburo.
Party insiders believe Grace was being used as a political pawn to dilute Mujuru’s influence and eventual ascendancy to the highest office in the event Mugabe decides to leave active politics or is incapacitated.
Mugabe in his speech confirmed that tension was mounting in his party ahead of the December congress, but cautioned politburo and central committee members to desist from fuelling factionalism as they positioned themselves for influential posts.
The tension was palpable from the morning with known male Zanu PF members seen outside the HICC openly canvassing women to “act accordingly” with one senior member saying he was keeping an eye on women from his province to ensure they did not “sell out”.
This was before the real drama started unfolding inside the congress venue, HICC, when Mujuru entered to subdued applause from the estimated 4 000 women delegates.
But the delegates burst into thunderous applause when current Women’s League boss Muchinguri introduced Grace.
Undettered, when Mujuru took to the podium, she opened her speech with a Shona song: “Pakati pedu apa, dairai, varipo vachatipandukira, dairai,” loosely translated to mean “some people in our midst are plotting against us”.
Delegates from the outlying provinces also registered their displeasure at the discord within the party hierarchy when they sang songs imploring Mugabe to be alert and avoid being misinformed by his close lieutenants.
Then came the fawning spectacle with party political commissar Webster Shamu as usual leading the pack.
Shamu did not disappoint in his bootlicking crusade when he described Mugabe as the “digital warrior”.
“Forward with the President, the digital warrior,” Shamu chanted before he burst into a “politicised” church hymn.