Grace Mugabe is not an idiot. Or so her record would indicate, anyway. It is hard to imagine an idiot amassing power and wealth in fields as diverse as property and dairy, fast-food outlets and mining.
She is a former cross border trader and office typist who wedded the President of the Republic. Her life has been punctuated by one meteoric rise after the other. Monumentally, at least twice she has risen from obscurity to power.
And yet if Grace is no fool, there is something needlessly and extraordinarily foolish about the way she conducts herself.
Her behaviour in Chiweshe recently seemed unfathomable, partly because she used language excessively vulgar, but largely because she has destabilised a party that should be one of the success stories of independent Africa.
Isolated events can be misleading, and it was intriguing how ragged and rattled Zanu PF were after the Chiweshe rally, yet that could scarcely be called a surprise consequence.
A simple general knowledge quiz would be enough to ascertain that Grace doesn’t know enough about a lot of things.
Her character is antithetical to many of the qualities necessary in a political leader: integrity, compassion and reasoned convictions, wisdom and prudence, trustworthiness, a commitment to the moral good.
For much of her recent career Dr Amai has even deemed it a compliment to be branded arrogant. In her defence, arrogance on its own is not an issue. The problem is caused by those who are too arrogant to listen and learn, too convinced of their convictions to heed advice and too distanced from reality and their supporters to understand the sentiment in the surrounding area.
When their opinions are not underpinned by knowledge and character, it is a dangerous combination.
The thing about such autocrats is that they do not do anything by half measures. Much as Grace
denies she is a problem, there is sufficient evidence to the contrary to dispute that. When her relationship with someone breaks down, it tends to do so spectacularly.
They tend to be prominent people too. Ray Kaukonde, the late Amos Midzi, the then “anointed” former Vice-President Joice Mujuru, all lost battles to the hardened Mrs. The former VP accused of running an underground Mafia which collected 10% royalties from companies all over, seducing spies and engaging in witchcraft.
Yet, it is instructive that Zanu PF supporters afforded Mujuru a standing ovation when she launched her party, war veterans backed her, and even followers of the MDC formations are sympathetic to her. Mujuru’s record might be as horrendous as Grace’s, but a dignified, defiant character inspires respect.
Ironically, since Mujuru was fired, she has quietly set-up a party which on the face of it might be formidable. She has progressed quite well. On the other hand, the notion that Zanu PF has progressed since Grace had Joice sacked is increasingly ridiculous. Zanu PF languishes in limbo.
Zanu PF’s serious problems began just before Grace was appointed and mushroomed thereafter. Jongwe house is now just a dysfunctional environment where laudable achievements bring blame, western recognition of excellence is considered treasonous and where reason and rationality have been suspended.
The shame is that the men who are responsible for Zanu PF’s achievements are as powerless as the long-suffering supporters. Sadly though, the truth is there is nothing either faction can do beyond waiting on the whims of an erratic First Lady who in the words of axed war veterans leader Jabulani Sibanda has orchestrated a “bedroom coup”.
Landmark birthdays offer a time for reflection. On his birthday, President Robert Mugabe’s response was to complain about “lack of cultured respect” and his wife being “abused”.
Mugabe is accustomed to being right, in his own mind at least. Yet even when Mugabe was right, he was wrong.
He was right to say that cultured youths do not insult their leaders. But where culture is the answer, the problem lies in the question.
If Grace’s conduct is a barometer for cultured dignity, then the obvious conclusion is she has none.
There is hardly any dignity in saying “Handisi hure raMugabe (I am not Mugabe’s whore)” in public and in front of minors for that matter, or questioning the paternity of rivals’ children on the same forum.
Leadership at an elite level is about dignity and public perception. To some extent, it is at any level. Mistakes come at a greater cost. Sooner or later, errors catch up with the perpetrator. That is the narrative.
The first lady has a fine determination but not the aptitude to lead. Her rashness brings other dangers. Her industrial quantities of self-belief cannot shield her from accusations she is wrong: wrong in those errant decisions and, more significantly, wrong for Zanu PF in general.
l Maynard Manyowa is a political and social commentator