PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s wife, Grace, has become a towering figure in Zanu PF.
Since her surprise and grand entry into politics last June when she was nominated to take over from Oppah Muchinguri as Women’s League boss, Grace has steadfastly asserted her authority in both Zanu PF and government with so much haste that she has already earned herself the nickname ‘Hurricane Grace’.
Although Mugabe has claimed that he was still in charge, the temptation to think that Grace is now the power behind the 91-year old leader is just irresistible.
The way Grace is being idolised by the party members seems to confirm that she is now the new centre of power outside Mugabe.
DrAmai, as she is affectionately known, is not only the Women’s League boss, but has also assumed the role of kingmaker in the party with most prominent politicians literally kneeling before her in order to get influential party positions from Mugabe.
First, at her Meet the People rallies, she had quite a huge entourage of senior party officials who included Environment minister Saviour Kasukuwere, Information minister Jonathon Moyo, Psychomotor minister Josiah Hungwe, to mention just, but a few, who virtually idolised her.
Considering the purging of the former Vice-President Joice Mujuru’s faction members, anyone who falls out of grace with Grace is certain to lose Mugabe’s favour.
This partly explains why the praise-singing of the First Lady is growing louder each day. First, it was Vice-President and Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa who knelt down before Grace and her husband after being appointed to the Presidium.
In January, Mnangagwa described Grace as an ‘atomic bomb’ after she led a spirited campaign against Mujuru in the run-up to the December party congress. Mujuru was accused of corruption and of trying to oust Mugabe.
“We didn’t know that President Mugabe had a strong weapon, stronger than a nuclear bomb,” Mnangagwa said then. “When Dr Mugabe was invited to lead the women’s league she exposed corruption and changed our perceptions.”
That Grace has the power is not in doubt and at the moment, as classical British playwright and poet William Shakespeare would say: “Like a Colossus, she indeed has straddled the whole Zimbabwe” while everyone else has become like “petty men walking under her huge legs and peep about”.
But the biggest question many Zimbabweans would struggle to answer is – if Mugabe is to go first, will Grace’s powers live beyond him or her powers are just like his shadow that will go with him?
Political analyst Charles Mangongera said Grace was not likely to survive longer politically after Mugabe’s demise.
“She has no social base in the party and those who are singing praises of her are only doing so to curry favour with Mugabe for patronage benefits. She is not from the liberation struggle tradition and also lacks the political acumen to survive the cutthroat politics of Zanu PF,” Mangongera said.
He added: “Grace only has symbolic power which she derives from Mugabe. Once Mugabe goes, those who are using her to ingratiate Mugabe will abandon her. They may even go after her and seize all the properties that she is acquiring, to demonstrate to the world that they are now doing things differently.”
Another political analyst Dewa Mavhinga said: “First Lady Grace Mugabe’s so-called political power is highly misunderstood and grossly exaggerated. She has no political constituency to speak of outside of her husband President Mugabe and her political life and influence is intricately tied to that of her husband.
Mavhinga added: “Her political fortunes without Mugabe will depend on the benevolence of Zanu PF shareholders including the political leadership of the security forces. Grace is not a seasoned politician and her party can be too vicious, vultures are waiting in the wings.”
From what Grace said about Mujuru, she also knows that she has the power to prevail over her husband and the party. Everything that she suggested came to pass. First, it was the Mujuru ouster which she chose to describe as “baby-dumping” and then the party’s constitutional amendments that gave her husband powers to select his deputies.
In her first politburo meeting in January, Grace sat close to her husband in a place Mujuru used to sit, asserting her authority in Zanu PF’s most powerful organ.
Mugabe himself, confirmed Grace’s powers and influence in his life at the party’s December Congress.
“It’s my wife who has written this note. She says I am now talking too much. That’s how I am treated even at home and so I must listen,” Mugabe told the delegates after Grace handed him a note.
The ambitious Grace
“They say I want to be president. Why not? Am I not a Zimbabwean?” Grace said last year at one of her numerous Mazowe meetings. Her addresses were often punctuated with authority and pride.
The statement fueled speculation that Grace was angling to take over from Mugabe.
Since marrying Mugabe, Grace seemed content with being the First Lady until last year when she waded into Zanu PF politics.
Observers say she had been motivated to enter politics in order to amass political power that she would use to protect the First Family’s business empire which includes large swaths of land.
But after entering politics, Grace was quick to stamp her authority from the power she acquired from her husband, who has been Zimbabwe’s sole leader since independence in 1980.
She immediately revealed her ambition, and said she was qualified to run for Mugabe’s post.
After savaging Mujuru at all her meetings, describing her as “ungrateful, power-hungry, daft, corrupt, foolish, and divisive and a disgrace”, Grace claimed to have entered politics to bring sanity to the faction-riddled Zanu PF.
Hurling disparaging attacks and threats to Mujuru and her perceived enemies, Grace seems to have earned herself more enemies than friends. It would be interesting to see how she would fare after Mugabe.
Marcellina Chikasha, leader of African Democratic Party, said about Grace’s phenomenal rise to power: “She has astounded many who consider themselves more intellectually and politically superior.
Chikasha added: “Call her shrewd, power hungry or plain old ‘being in the right place at the right time’ – this typist has become a kingmaker in Zimbabwe’s succession politics. She is tenacious and determined; she is naïve and unpolished; she is feared and has been known always to get what she wants.”
Grace’s rise has always been a subject of controversy in Zanu PF and Zimbabwe’s polarised political landscape. Forgetting the popular English adage which says “That lowliness is young ambition’s ladder”, Grace seems to have created for herself many enemies than friends in her meteoric rise.
But indeed, Grace knows her source of power.
By always reminding people that she was the First Lady, Grace seemed to be aware of her source of power. What will happen to her when Mugabe is gone, that is if he goes first, has remained a subject of speculation?
Like his shadow, will Mugabe go with his powers to the grave? And what will happen to her?
Political analyst Alexander Rusero said although there was imaginary power in Zanu PF, survival after Mugabe would depend on how much she would have gone in positioning herself before her husband departs the political scene.
“Whether she will last for a day after Mugabe is gone depends on how fast she can go when Mugabe is still around. She needs to strategically position herself while her husband is still around. She is already doing that,” Rusero said.
“For now, she has the power to make things happen. We cannot deny that. Look at the way she called for the ouster of former Vice President Joice Mujuru and she has caused heads to roll in Cabinet. If she can cause a whole VP to be fired, then she has the power.”
Rusero said power in Zanu PF was imaginary and if she positions herself well; she could still be worshipped after Mugabe. It is after Mugabe that Grace’s powers would come under a stern test.
Already, she sees herself as someone with absolute power, which to some instances could be true, but would it not be the situation of a cat that sees itself in a mirror and believes that it is a vicious lion, only to realise that it does not have even a tenth of the King of the Jungle’s fighting dexterity when need be.
Grace is riding on his veteran nationalist husband’s power. In Zanu PF, where liberation credentials have been used as the ticket to leadership, she might find it difficult to rise without Mugabe.
Her powers, like ousted Zanu PF war veteran leader Jabulani Sibanda said, were transferred through sex and Zimbabwe was on the verge of a bedroom coup. Sibanda paid the prize of his utterances — being arrested and stripped of his powers.
Almost buttressing Sibanda’s observation, Rusero said: “Right now she is close to Mugabe, who has the power and it is important to note that power diffuses from higher concentration to a lower concentration. She is living in the sanctuary of power and she has it.”
However, others feel the First Lady may not get the support of the military and her powers, like a nova, would only shine once, and wane as the sun sinks to the bowels of the earth.