PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe for the first time opened up on the raging drama in Zanu PF in the wake of the ascendency of his wife Grace to the top post of the all-powerful Women’s League.
Mugabe had remained tight-lipped when accusations and counter accusations flew in the party due to the tremors that Grace’s entry into politics had caused in Zanu PF until on Sunday after touching down at Harare International Airport from his week-long State visit to China.
Cracks in the faction-ridden party had been widening each day, with factions invoking Grace’s name in the nasty fights to succeed the veteran leader, who has led Zimbabwe for the past 34 years.
A faction reportedly led by Mugabe’s second-in-command, Vice-President Joice Mujuru, and another reportedly led by Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa are tussling for the control of Zanu PF in the post-Mugabe era.
Speculation had been rife that Grace had been persuaded to enter into the political fray by the Mnangagwa faction in an apparent move to deal a blow on the Mujuru faction that had seemingly enjoyed enormous support from the Women’s League.
Soon after the endorsement of Grace by the country’s 10 provinces at her belated 49th birthday party in Mazowe in July, a lot has happened in the party, including public spats between party hawks along factional lines, but Mugabe had remained mute.
First was the incumbent Women’s League boss, Oppah Muchinguri, who launched a diatribe against other party hawks while addressing party youths who had gone to Mazowe to show solidarity with the appointment of the First Lady to lead the women’s wing.
At the official opening of the Women’s League conference in Harare, Muchinguri, in what seemed to be an apparent attack on Mujuru, said Zanu PF Women’s League was against women who burnt their husbands in homes.
Mujuru’s husband, General Solomon Mujuru, died in an inferno at his Beatrice farmhouse in 2011.
Drama continued to unfold, with the Amos Midzi-led Harare provincial executive reportedly refusing to give Grace a political sanctuary.
Harare provincial political commissar Shadreck Mashayamombe is alleged to have called Mugabe’s nephew Patrick Zhuwao and advised him to tell the First Lady to look for a political home in Mashonaland West, Mugabe’s home province.
This was followed by skirmishes in which party youths were reportedly assaulted in Mbare under the full view of Mbare MP Tendai Savanhu for reportedly supporting the appointment of Grace to the top women post.
Midzi immediately responded by denying the claims, and offered Grace a political home, but not before some skirmishes that resulted in the assault of party members for allegedly supporting the rise of Grace.
But after Harare provincial youth chairperson Godfrey Gomwe pleaded with Mugabe to rein in party bigwigs who were victimising the youths for endorsing Grace, Mugabe breathed fire, threatened to deal with the chaos building in the party over the elevation of his wife.
For Mugabe, who had left people guessing on whether he supported his wife’s grand entry into politics, his ranting at Harare International Airport all, but confirmed Grace was not operating without her husband’s approval.
“I want to hear why she (Grace) should leave Harare, going where? I would also want to know where the emperor of Harare got his powers from,” he told supporters who braved the chilly weather to welcome him back from China.
“There must be that understanding that we are one in Zanu PF, it doesn’t matter whether you are in Bulawayo, Mutare, or in Gweru, you should feel free, each part of the country in Zimbabwe is ours together. So that is what must guide us.”
Entry into politics, is it Grace’s design?
For long, Mugabe has been viewed as a man who was benefited more from factionalism in Zanu PF, claiming the peace-maker role to guarantee his long survival as the leader of the party.
Grace’s entry into politics to neutralise factionalism would then generate a pertinent question — why would Mugabe allow that when he is in fact the biggest beneficiary to the infighting?
While many people would want to view Mugabe as old and someone who has lost control of the party and giving in to Grace’s ambitious manoeuvres, political analyst Alexander Rusero said Mugabe’s outburst on Sunday in support of his wife showed that he was the brains behind Grace’s rise.
He said it showed Mugabe was still in control.
Rusero said Mugabe wants Grace to hold an influential political position because he no longer trusts anyone in the party due to factionalism.
“What he [Mugabe] said on Sunday will send strong messages to factions. It is about consolidating his power position in the party that was about to crumble due to factionalism. Factionalism was too much that his position was becoming vulnerable,” Rusero said.
He said Mugabe’s silence over the issue for the past two months showed that he is a shrewd politician who calculates before he acts.
“Mugabe does things his own way, he is slow, but accurate. This is now clear that the whole thing was planned long ago. What we are likely going to see is people being whipped into line.
“Anyone who wants to oppose Mugabe will do so at his own peril. That is why Mujuru quickly pledged support for Grace. No one in Zanu PF wants to cross Mugabe’s path,” Rusero said.
As if to confirm Rusero’s observation, Grace, while addressing youths who had gone to show solidarity with her nomination in Mazowe, said she had been understudying Mugabe and was ready to emulate his leadership.
Grace told the excited youths that she was ready to take up the leadership position.
But why Grace decided to enter politics had remained a puzzle to many, even in Zanu PF circles. If she is enjoying Mugabe’s backing, for what reason would Mugabe want his wife to enter the political minefield?
Why does Mugabe support Grace’s move?
While Rusero is of the view it could be Mugabe’s decision to consolidate his power in the face of a factional storm, others believe all the power struggles in Zanu PF are driven by a desire to use political power to protect ill-gotten wealth, with the First Family being no exemption.
Factionalism that has left Zanu PF on a cliff-edge, could have taught Mugabe not to trust anyone except his family.
As if to confirm the observation, while offering a solidarity speech to Grace in Mazowe, and in what seemed to be an apparent attack on Mujuru, Muchinguri said Grace’s entry into politics had ruffled factional leaders who had plundered the country’s national resources and want to use political power to protect their loot.
She said she was a fearless cadre and was unfazed with the ever-mounting criticism over her support of the First Lady. Grace herself too hinted on her fears when she said all those undermining her were playing with fire, claiming she was a force to reckon with, and would deal with those who claimed they wanted to repossess all the land she took in Mazowe.
“They say they want to take away everything that I worked for. They say we want to drag her on the tarmac after Mugabe is gone,” Grace said in Mazowe, in a move that could suggest Grace could be stepping into the political ring to get powers to protect the First Family’s inheritance after Mugabe is gone.
A senior Zanu PF member who requested anonymity said: “In Zanu PF, people get power to acquire wealth, and use power to safeguard what they have acquired. Most of the black-against-black land invasions are on the people who have lost political power. It’s dog-eat-dog.”
And sure, the list of people who have lost farms after losing political power is endless, with the latest being Zapu leader Dumiso Dabengwa. Maybe Mugabe could be alive to what is happening and he is afraid Grace would lose everything if he leaves her without a political shield.
Media and democracy scholar Pedzisai Ruhanya said anyone who expects Mugabe not to support his wife is naïve.
Ruhanya said generation of wealth and protection of it was what motivates factionalism.
“At the heart of factions is the issue of property rights. In order to protect those properties, one needs to have political power. I suspect Mugabe, on his last days, is interested in protecting his economic empire. That could be why he wants Grace to enter politics, not to become President, but to influence succession in Zanu PF and guarantee the First Family’s economic interests,” Ruhanya said.
“Mugabe needs someone who will totally and unequivocally protect his economic interests.”
Ruhanya said whoever captures Grace’s support between the factions, secures Mugabe’s support and has more chances of taking over the reins of the party.
“It will strengthen that hand of the faction that Grace supports.
“Remember, Grace is with Mugabe even during the night.
She has the last say. She has more access to Mugabe than any other politician.”
There have been allegations that the rise of Grace was engineered by the Mnangagwa faction to neutralise Mujuru’s support, and naively, the Mujuru faction had reportedly shown hostility to Grace’s rise, possibly fast-tracking its fallout with Mugabe and complicating the whole succession matrix in the party.
Now that Mugabe has publicly supported his wife, he would seek to victimise those who wanted to block her.
Ruhanya said: “There is no way Mugabe cannot support his wife. You will see political dead bodies on the floor over the Grace issue. It is not wise to go against Mugabe.”
Already, party members have started crossing swords over Grace.
Recently, Foreign Affairs deputy minister Christopher Mutsvangwa launched a scathing attack on Didymus Mutasa, the party’s secretary for administration.
However, Ruhanya warned Grace to ensure that the faction she supported prevailed or risk the fate of Jiang Qing, former China Communist Party leader Mao Ze Dung’s wife, who was hanged after the faction she supported was defeated.