PRESIDENT ROBERT Mugabe is planning to appoint First Lady Grace Mugabe as the new Minister of Women Affairs after he did not name anyone to succeed Oppah Muchinguri who was yesterday sworn in as the new Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education.
Sources told NewsDay at State House yesterday that indications in government were that Mugabe was intending to give his wife the ministerial post so that she pushes forward the women’s agenda both in the party and at national level.
Grace was recently confirmed as the Women’s League boss in the Zanu PF politburo, making her the most powerful woman in the ruling party after the recent ejection of former Vice-President Joice Mujuru on allegations of trying to topple Mugabe.
Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn in as the country’s new Vice-President, solidifying his chances of replacing Mugabe, who turns 91 next year and has been the country’s sole leader since attainment of independence from British rule in 1980.
At a ceremony held at State House, former diplomat Phelekezela Mphoko was also sworn in as second VP.
Mugabe also swore in five new ministers, among them former Women’s Affairs minister Oppah Muchinguri, who took over as Higher Education minister from fired Oliver Muchena.
Samuel Undenge is the new Energy minister, taking over from Dzikamai Mavhaire, who was also fired on Tuesday. Former ICT minister Webster Shamu was replaced by former Information deputy minister Supa Mandiwanzira.
Christopher Mushohwe took over from Francis Nhema as Indigenisation minister, while Christopher Mutsvangwa heads the newly-
established War Veterans ministry.
Tsitsi Muzenda was sworn in as Energy and Power Development deputy minister, Mandi Chimene (Manicaland Provincial Affairs minister), Biggie Joel Matiza (Mashonaland East Provincial Affairs minister) and Prisca Mupfumira took over from Nicholas Goche as Public Works, Labour and Social Welfare minister.
Mugabe did not replace fired Presidential Affairs minister Didymus Mutasa. But his “failure” to appoint a new Minister of Women Affairs left many to speculate that Grace was likely to take over the post that is traditionally linked to the Zanu PF Women’s League boss.
Asked why Mugabe had left a gap in her former office, Muchinguri said it was up to the President to explain. But she said she would not be surprised if the First Lady was to be named Women’s Affairs minister.
She confirmed that it was normal for the Zanu PF Women’s League leader to play the same duties in the party and at national level.
“I am not the President and I wouldn’t know on that one,” she said.
“I cannot comment on that because it is up to the President. During my tenure, I had two hats in the politburo and the ministry, so I will not be surprised. If it happens that way, it will be for the better and for a woman to be working on women issues, you need passion.”
Observers said it was likely that Mugabe was working out modalities to accommodate Grace, who is not an MP, into Cabinet as Women’s Affairs minister, hence his move not to give the portfolio to anyone — at least for now.
According to Zimbabwe’s Constitution, ministers or deputy ministers are supposed to be MPs, but the President has the leeway to appoint five individuals into Parliament.
Mugabe appointed as non-constituency MPs Jonathan Moyo, Martin Dinha, Lazarus Dokora, Faber Chidarikire and Joseph Made to ministerial posts. He will have to find a way of accommodating Grace if he wishes to appoint her into his Cabinet.
In explaining why she and other women in Zanu PF decided to rope in Grace to fight Mujuru, Muchinguri said they felt the First Lady could be the only one to rein in Mujuru who was “fighting me” both at the ministry and the party.
“To her, she felt I was in competition. She fought me wherever I was. She was fighting me because I was too close (to Mugabe) and that she did in the last 10 years. How many women did she help? None, except that she was just fighting me,” she claimed.
Muchinguri said Mujuru should have apologised to Mugabe and would not have suffered the humiliation she went through in the party and government.
Presidential spokesperson George Charamba could not be reached for comment yesterday.
For close to a decade, Mnangagwa was believed to be leading a faction that was wrestling with the other linked to the ousted Mujuru in the race to succeed Mugabe.
Mujuru, who became Vice-President in 2004, was set to take over from Mugabe until the past five months when things took a new turn with the entry of First Lady Grace Mugabe into politics. She was fired unceremoniously by her boss on allegations of plotting to topple the nonagenarian leader in a move that appears to be an endorsement of Mnangagwa as the heir apparent.