WHEN she made her entrance, she was described as a unifier, a mother-figure who would bring sanity to a party that was facing the debilitating effects of intense factional wars.
Alex T. Magaisa
But the last few months since her grand entrance have offered us a good opportunity to know more about First Lady Grace Mugabe, both as a person and a politician.
This piece enumerates a selection of aspects of Grace that we have picked up in this period.
She is a daring individual, although from another angle, one might argue that she is rather reckless.
Grace knows that inevitably, given that he is in the twilight of his life and political career, she and her family will have to face a long future without her husband, President Robert Mugabe, whose presence and power have been a source of comfort and protection.
After his departure, she, the family and their significant business interests will become exposed. She realised she needed to place herself in a position where she would be able to secure protection.
To do this, she needed political power and to have an influence on the next leader of the party and country. She could not outsource this responsibility, no, not even rely on her husband, so she decided to enter the fray.
In doing so, she has boldly chosen a side that she thinks will give her better protection. But at the same time, it means she has sidelined and created an enemy out of the rival side.
That she has gone on the offensive against that side is either daring or reckless. At this rate, there is no question that the side she has chosen will have to win.
If they fail and the other side succeeds, Zimbabwe may no longer be such a homely environment for Grace and her family.
She had the option to stay in the background, to hedge her bets and be cosy with both factions and play it safe with either of them. But she decided to show her hand. Some will say its boldness. Others will say it’s an act of carelessness.
She does not like Vice-President Joice Mujuru. We are probably being polite — the right word would be that she hates Mujuru and wants her sacked from her job.
In thinly-veiled statements during her rallies, Grace attacked Mujuru and her faction. At her rallies in Mashonaland Central and Mashonaland East, she was almost direct, describing Mashonaland Central as the home of the “demon” of factionalism. That province is Mujuru’s home.
It was clear that she was referring to Mujuru and this much was confirmed the next day by the State media, which, the previous day, had carried denials by Information minister Jonathan Moyo that when Grace had criticised the calibre of the Vice-President, she had not been referring to the incumbent Vice-President, Mujuru.
All this came to nothing as Grace continued with her tirade, coming just short of mentioning Mujuru by name. Now everyone knows that Grace has a strong dislike for Mujuru and wants her fired.
Following on from the above is the natural conclusion that Grace is in the anti-Mujuru faction and has either created her own faction or is firmly in the Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa faction, which has reportedly been angling for succession when Mugabe, who turns 91 in four months, departs office.
As much as she criticises Mujuru of leading a faction, she is also leading or part of a rival faction.
Throughout her rallies, she has moved around the country with a coterie of government ministers in tow and these are mostly believed to be in the Mnangagwa faction.
At her rallies, she has consistently attacked Mujuru and members of her faction, even using the slogan “Phansi le Gamatox” (Down with Gamatox) in Bulawayo, a clear reference to party secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa, who, a few months ago, prescribed the use of the pesticide Gamatox against the “weevils” that Mugabe had referred to in a speech.
Those “weevils” were interpreted to be Moyo and company since they were accused of having infiltrated the party in order to destroy it from within.
By castigating Gamatox, Grace shows that she has taken a side against Mutasa, who is one of Mujuru’s chief allies in the succession battle.
Although she was initially presented as a unifier who would end factionalism in the party, she has, through her statements at these rallies, done even more to fan and entrench factionalism. If anything, she has acted as the chief spokesperson of the anti-Mujuru faction.
She believes that everyone in Zanu PF and, by extension, in Zimbabwe, is beholden to her husband, Mugabe. In all her speeches, criticism of other people is based upon their alleged disloyalty towards her husband, to whom in her mind, they ought to be grateful.
In her view, everyone who holds a position in the State, elected or otherwise, does so because of Mugabe’s good heart. For this benevolence, every person owes Mugabe.
This is why, when she alleges that Mujuru is corrupt, she does not talk about the law taking its course, but suggests that if she wants to be forgiven, then she must apologise to her husband.
In her mind, Mugabe is almost like an absolute monarch of medieval times — with power to make laws, to interpret and enforce them according to his wishes.
This is consistent with Grace’s views on the discredited one-party State system.
In her world, the Berlin Wall is still intact and the Soviet Union still exists, for she yearns for a one-party State in Zimbabwe.
After a brief flirtation with the idea in the 1980s, her husband abandoned proposals for a one-party State.
But his wife seems to be living in the past and she wants a one-party State. “Forward with the one-party State!” she sloganeered at a rally in Masvingo.
Grace wants to lead Zimbabwe and believes she is anointed by God. She has already told us before that her husband was anointed by God to lead Zimbabwe. She described him as a “pastor”.
It is not about the people and votes, no. It is God’s anointment that matters. Speaking at the rally in Masvingo, she is reported as having said: “When I was approached to come into politics to lead the women, one day I saw a vision of me ruling the heavenly kingdom.”
Listening to her speeches, most statements either make reference to the authority of “Baba” her husband or God, whom she, rather hilariously, pronounces as “Gad/Guard” to the amusement of many observers.
The excessive references to her “Gad” have led to charges of violating one of the holy commandments, the one that proscribes the taking of the Lord’s name in vain.
Bribing people for political support is a perfectly legitimate tool of politics.
In her world, ordinary people are desperate souls who can be rewarded with a few gifts if they behave and they must be punished with denial of aid for disloyalty.
At her rally in Bulawayo, some women began to leave their seats while she was still speaking. Grace thought they were rising in protest and she took great exception to this “act of disobedience”.
She admonished the women and ordered that those who had left their seats would not be given the packets of seed maize that she had brought with her.
So for her, the women who were showing disloyalty had to be punished. Aid, for her, is simply a political tool to reward loyal supporters and to entice political support.
At another rally in Chinhoyi, she had made the politically correct statement that aid would be available to everyone, whether they were ruling party or opposition supporters. Her handlers had taught her good political public relations.
But when she was faced with apparent opposition, she acted true to character and demonstrated that like her party Zanu PF, which has always politicised aid, she was no different.
The Bulawayo incident also showed us that Grace still has a very thin skin for an aspiring politician.
The moment she sensed opposition, she lost her cool and acted like a woman scorned.
She ranted at the women in an undignified manner, which was consistent with shameful rants that she issued at most of her rallies, mostly directed at her opponents.
They were rants of an individual who appears incapable of properly controlling her emotions and is, therefore, easily offended, a person who is insecure and probably suffers an inferiority complex.
Power in the hands of an individual who demonstrates emotional recklessness and insecurity can be very dangerous.
She is still a political amateur who does not realise the basic principle that politics is about securing one’s interests by making more allies and minimising one’s enemies.
Grace was presented as a pacifier and unifier, but as she went around the country and attacked and belittled senior figures in her Zanu PF party, she created more enemies and critics.
In Masvingo she embarrassed Energy minister and politburo member Dzikamai Mavhaire while praising rivals Psychomotor minister and politburo members Josiah Hungwe and Women’s League secretary for security Shuvai Mahofa, in Mutare she attacked secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa, she belittled Bulawayo provincial chairman Callistus Ndlovu and treated Harare provincial chairman Amos Midzi and his group like little children.
In Bindura, she attacked Mujuru and in Mashonaland East she humiliated provincial chairman Ray Kaukonde.
Everywhere, she left scalps and generated disquiet. Instead of unifying, she became a divisive influence. She might have shared close moments with her husband all these years, but clearly, his political wisdom has not rubbed off her. Her approach has been that of an enraged bull in a china shop.
Also linked to the last point, is the apparent demonstration of political ineptitude and tactlessness in handling issues, which left her exposed to embarrassment at the Marondera rally.
Failing to judge the mood and the circumstances of the province, she went on the offensive in hostile terrain.
At one point, after issuing one of her regular rants against Kaukonde, she had to ask people to be quiet after they responded with signs of disapproval.
But the lack of tact was more apparent when she asked Kaukonde to come up so that they could have a “mini-Unity Accord”, as she had done in Harare when she cowed Midzi into submission.
Kaukonde publicly refused to take the offer and remained rooted to his seat, an open rebellion that she had misjudged simply because she had overestimated her own power and importance.
Such shows are done for the cameras when they have been pre-arranged. You do not try an impromptu show with a person that you have been berating because he or she can embarrass you, as indeed happened in that incident. She could have saved herself the embarrassment had she done her homework.
For a woman known for her love of high fashion and elegance, Grace can be indecorous both in language and manner. Speaking at the rally in Bindura, she chose a distasteful metaphor which is certainly not in keeping with the motherly figure that her handlers and the State media have sought to portray.
Speaking in crude Shona, she said: “I said to President Mugabe, ‘Do you know baby dumping?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ Then I said, you must baby-dump this faction leader, but if you don’t do it, we will dump her ourselves. We will do the baby-dumping ourselves because she is dividing the party.”
The person she was referring to was, of course, her rival Mujuru — that she must be “dumped” like an unwanted baby.
She went further: “In my opinion, dumping the baby in the street so that she is devoured by the vultures is the best option. Yes, because when we expose your rotten, smelly and corrupt body, even flies and dogs will hesitate to get near you!”
Here is a woman who prides herself as a mother figure, who looks after and cares for orphans and yet, she fails to see the irony of her employing the language of “baby-dumping” of political opponents to make her point.
It is crude, unseemly and unintelligent employment of violent and uncouth language by a person desirous of taking a leadership role and showing a caring side.
For all her Bible-waving antics, she is not given to humility and likes to flaunt power to all and sundry. She often addresses herself in the third person, reminds everyone that she is “Amai” the mother of the nation and everything is prefaced by what “Baba said” as in the opinions of her husband Mugabe or God revealed to her.
She demands respect, seemingly oblivious of the fact that respect is something that is earned by one’s deeds and conduct.