HARARE – President Robert Mugabe’s ominous warning to Zanu PF bigwigs on his return from the United Nations a fortnight ago, that no one in the warring ruling party could stand in the way of the wishes of his wife Grace appears to be coming to pass.
As Grace addressed her latest power exhibition show in Rushinga yesterday — amid much pomp, ceremony and embarrassing bootlicking by among others Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko — it became glaringly clearer that no one in the post-congress Zanu PF could stop her if she continued to dream about succeeding her frail nonagenarian husband.
In fact, the controversial First Lady gave one of her clearest hints to date that she could be going for it, saying that she was mounting her rallies because she did not want to wait until the 2018 elections, as people would then be entitled to ask her where she would have been all along — a statement that insiders said exposed her presidential ambitions. And as if to confirm that even Mphoko — who is senior to her, at least on paper — is not at her level, Grace went to the Mashonaland Central rally in a “presidential convoy” of two helicopters, while the dour VP hotfooted his way there by road, in addition to once again being humiliated by being asked to introduce his supposed junior to the crowds.
Grace Mugabe addressing delegates at the Rushinga rally.
Seemingly, to save face, Mphoko offered an unsolicited and unconvincing explanation to the crowds, saying he was happy to introduce Grace as she was Mugabe’s wife and thus represented the president wherever she went.
“President Mugabe is the centre of power and those that don’t want his leadership can move to the side and proceed to form their own party like (Simba) Makoni and (Dumiso) Dabengwa … now with utmost humility I introduce the First Lady,” the seemingly out of sorts VP said.
The increasingly-influential Grace provided yet another public demonstration of her power when a huge entourage of at least a dozen Cabinet ministers, an estimated 50 legislators and hundreds of other ruling party bigwigs from around the country accompanied her to the Rushinga rally.
Most of the Cabinet ministers and party officials who graced the rally are linked to Zanu PF’s ambitious Young Turks known as the Generation 40 (G40) group — that is said to be led by combative Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere — and which is locked in a bitter power struggle with Mnangagwa and his supporters, while expediently promoting Grace.
And as usual, the cash-strapped Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) was once again there to cover the rally live — a costly exercise that is usually reserved for her long-ruling husband, and for which the public broadcaster and its reporter Judith Makwanya unsurprisingly got high praise from the “Unconquerable”, while the independent media were excoriated.
Grace also used the occasion to blast unnamed ambitious veterans of the country’s liberation struggle, saying their participation in the gruelling war of independence was not a ticket for them to do as they pleased, as they were not the only ones to fight for Zimbabwe’s freedom.
“There are some who think that because they fought in the war to liberate the country, their war credentials give them the right to do what they want. Are you the only one who fought in that war?
“We will end up asking you if anybody forced you to join the war because there are many others who also went there. We all did, as our parents, brothers and sisters played their part as well” Grace said.
The First Lady, 50, did not take part in the liberation struggle which many in the post-congress Zanu PF regard as a must for anyone who wants to be president of the party and country. The country’s meddling and politically-influential security chiefs have also made it clear in the past that they will not salute anyone without strong liberation credentials.
In 2002, the then Defence Forces Commander, the late Vitalis Zvinavashe, issued a chilling televised statement, pointedly warning citizens against voting for anyone other than Mugabe.
“Let it be known that the highest office in the land is a straight jacket whose occupant is expected to observe the objectives of the liberation struggle,” Zvinavashe said in his widely-condemned statement.
Grace said former Vice President Joice Mujuru was expelled from Zanu PF for assuming that her liberation struggle credentials were enough for her to become president.
But War Veterans minister Chris Mutsvangwa recently slammed the G40 that is strongly linked to Grace, saying war veterans were on high alert to quash the ambitions of the Young Turks.
“Some say when I give you food I’m buying your votes but should I let people starve because of that. I don’t care and will continue to do that until 2018.
“Better you vote me after giving you something than nothing as other parties do. When they come towards elections chase them away. This province is a no go area. It is a one-party state here,” Grace also said at yesterday’s rally.