First Lady Grace Mugabe’s now infamous “meet the people” rallies have left Zimbabweans scrambling for answers to questions about her motives and the source of money oiling her subtle campaigns to influence her husband’s succession.
A closer look shows there is a coterie of Zanu PF women’s league leaders and a network of businesspeople that have become a permanent feature at the theatrical rallies.
The team, which has property developer, Jimaya Muduvuri and South Africa-based Zimbabwean businessman, Agrippa Bhopela Masiyakurima, among others, started oiling Grace’s machinery from the time she burst into the political scene in 2014.
The former typist announced her entry into politics with a brutal campaign against former vice-president Joice Mujuru, which resulted in the war veteran’s unceremonious departure from Zanu PF and government a few months later.
A hallmark of Grace’s rallies has been the dishing out of trinkets and food hand-outs to the poverty-stricken communities she visits.
Besides the funding of the rallies and hand-outs that are given to villagers, the organisation of the meetings has also been a task of a few in the inner cycle that includes, deputy secretary for women’s league, Eunice Sandi-Moyo and secretary for finance, Sarah Mahoka.
At all the rallies addressed by the First Lady, the “kitchen cabinet” is present and would be cheering her on as she savages party leaders that she thinks are eyeing her husband’s throne.
However, Mahoka said she “is in no one’s kitchen cabinet even though she was behind the First Lady’s rallies.
“I am the secretary for finance in the women’s league and the First Lady is my boss so I go wherever she goes,” she said.
“If she gives me a responsibility, I do accordingly, so you can’t say I am in a kitchen cabinet.”
Before a rally is held, Mahoka — who is by and large energetic, according to party insiders — is among a few people who visit the proposed rally site in the company of other members aligned to the G40 faction for inspections.
In her pre-rally visits, she would be in the company of State security agents attached to the First Lady, making her one of the most feared people in the women’s league.
Mahoka is also said to be in charge of the mobilisation working with the provincial structures — a task that should normally be handled by the secretary for commissariat, Marble Chinomona.
“I do all those duties under the instruction of the First Lady as you may be aware; I am the secretary for finance, so we do the sourcing of funds to bankroll our activities. I do not overstep anyone’s authority but I just do as assigned,” Mahoka said.
Muduvuri said he supported the First Lady because he believed in her vision.
“I have been supporting the party through and through and it should not be a surprise to anyone that I am doing it through the First Lady,” he said.
“Whatever I give, I know it will find itself in the hands of the people, hence I support her.
Asked if the donations he made were being channelled through the party structures, Muduvuri said, “what other party structures do you want? Is the First Lady and her women’s league not a structure enough?”
At Grace’s last rally in Chiweshe, Zanu PF political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere, who is also a permanent feature at these gatherings among other youthful politicians said to be aligned to G40, introduced Muduvuri and Gweru-based businesswoman Smelly Dube as the women’s league benefactors.
Some of the benefactors are said to be staying in city hotels burning the mid-night oil plotting the First Lady’s programmes — all this at their expense.
At most of her rallies, the First Lady has with her secondhand clothes that would have been allegedly confiscated by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority from cross-border traders.
Although Zimra did not respond to emailed questions, last year the First lady told a rally in Zvimba that she had been given second-hand clothes seized from informal traders.
The First Lady has been tapping into the $98 million agricultural equipment loan facility, extended to Harare by Brazil under the Zimbabwe-Brazil More Food for Africa Programme, to finance partisan donations at her rallies.
According to insiders, the maize donated at these rallies also belongs to the State, but the kitchen cabinet is responsible for sourcing other hand-outs such as foodstuffs and clothes.
At one rally in Chimanimani, the First Lady donated two tractors, two planters, a fertiliser spreader and 120 knap sack sprayers to Nyanyadzi and Nyakohwa irrigation schemes, while Cashel Valley received six tractors, six planters, a fertiliser spreader and 120 knapsacks.
She also donated various food stuffs that included 250 tonnes of maize, clothes and blankets whose funding is still unclear.
In Rushinga, she donated various farming equipment, including eight tractors, planters and fertiliser spreaders.
She also donated 300 tonnes of maize, 50 tonnes of which was distributed at the venue. She gave an order that the remaining 250 tonnes be collected from Rushinga Grain Marketing Board depot using coupons.
Political analysts said the First Lady was trying to build a social base so that she can challenge Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa — widely seen as the favourite to succeed President Robert Mugabe.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer, Eldred Masunungure said the way her rallies were organised showed that she had her own people running the show, but at the same time abusing her proximity to power.
“Most of the people donating are doing so because they want to protect their businesses,” he said.
“They would rather donate than lose government tenders and have their enterprises attacked by the State.”
“It’s out of fear and patronage, hence they donate.”
Grace denies that she has ambitions to become Zimbabwe’s next president. But at her rally in Chiweshe, she said she was already in power.