First Lady, Grace Mugabe’s entrance into the political arena has sent major shockwaves in Zanu PF and thrown into disarray factions battling to succeed President Robert Mugabe.
BY PATRICE MAKOVA AND MOSES MATENGA
Zanu PF Women’s League structures on Friday endorsed Grace as their new boss ahead of the wing’s congress in August, giving her a ticket to march into the party’s politburo.
Sources said Mugabe sanctioned the move by the First Lady to deal a blow to the factions fighting to succeed him as age takes its toll on the 90-year-old Zanu PF leader.
One faction is reportedly led by Vice-President Joice Mujuru and another one is linked to Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa. The two have however persistently denied leading any factions or harbouring presidential ambitions.
A Zanu PF official yesterday said Mugabe was seized with the issue of factionalism which was destroying his party.
He said Mugabe was expected to make more shock announcements at Zanu PF’s December elective congress, with some party bigwigs set to be dropped and surprise candidates being elevated in the name of rooting out factionalism.
“The First Lady will be a key political player in Zanu PF. People will fall over each other to support her and who will dare to belong to any other faction other than hers and Mugabe’s?” said the official.
He said the move to elevate Grace was engineered by a faction calling itself the Mugabe Team whose members are keen to neutralise the influence of the current party’s presidium.
Apart from Mugabe, other members of the presidium are Mujuru, national chairman Simon Khaya Moyo and secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa.
“There is a feeling that Mugabe is being dominated by other members of the presidium. They have created a perimeter wall around Mugabe, blocking other officials from directly accessing him,” said the official.
“With the entrance of the First Lady, people can now have access to the President through her.”
He said if Grace succeeds in ending factionalism in Zanu PF; Mugabe would have more time to concentrate on restoring the battered economy.
Another Zanu PF official said as Women’s League boss, Grace would be in a strategic position to determine the future of Zanu PF and whoever succeeds Mugabe.
She would also be in a position to protect her vast family business interests.
He said the First Lady’s decision to enter politics would deal a bigger blow to the Mujuru faction. Mujuru is currently the top contender to succeed Mugabe in accordance with Zanu PF hierarchy.
“The coming in of the First Lady shows that the issue of hierarchy which the likes of Mutasa always brag about and want to religiously protect falls away. It means that we can wake up one day and have totally new leaders in the party,” said the official.
However, a politburo member said they would wait to see if Mugabe would allow party rules to be broken just to accommodate his wife.
She said the recently announced election guidelines were clear in that a candidate should have served for 15 years, five of them at provincial level in order to qualify to contest a national position.
“Zanu PF is not someone’s personal property and rules have to be respected,” she said.
Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo said the move by the Women’s League was their decision which the politburo would not dispute.
“It’s a Women’s League decision. They have a right to decide what they want. The politburo will look into that but otherwise it’s the Women’s League issue and we don’t want to be involved until it comes to the politburo,” Gumbo said.
Analysts said Grace’s entrance into politics was a game-changer that has ruled out Mujuru and Mnangagwa as the favourites to replace the veteran leader.
The analysts yesterday said the move was made with the blessings of the President and his loyalists in a bid to arrest the growing factionalism in the party.
University of Zimbabwe lecturer Professor Eldred Masunungure said the latest development in Zanu PF ruled out Mnangagwa and Mujuru with the likelihood that another dark horse would emerge to take the leadership of the party. Mnangagwa has also been linked to the Mugabe Team which engineered Grace’s rise to power with the support of generals.
“It goes beyond the Women’s League. The ultimate prize is the Presidency and neither Mujuru nor Mnangagwa will take that. Gushungo wants to make a statement that there is no room for factionalism. The next occupant of State House is definitely going to be a dark horse,” he said.
“The First Lady will not succeed Gushungo but what it means is the two will look around for someone, that is if they haven’t done that already, who will be able to defend and promote their interests after President has vacated State House.”
Masunungure said the decision was understandable and designed to shield the President from the unknown.
“He wants someone from his family. He wants to shield himself from the unknown and have someone who shares a bed with him in power. It’s an understandable decision and you wouldn’t want someone who rocks the boat,” Masunungure said.
Political analyst Takura Zhangazha said the succession politics had become interesting. He said Mugabe was stepping in to protect his own interests and ensure his family was part of the leadership structures.
“Succession dynamics in Zanu PF have become more interesting and sophisticated. Mugabe wants to protect his own interests and ensure his family is part of the leadership. Those aspiring to take over from Mugabe should start taking Grace seriously, not as a contestant but as a support garnering structure,” Zhangazha said.
Senior and influential Zanu PF women, among them the incumbent Oppah Muchinguri, Senate President Edna Madzongwe and the deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly Mable Chinomona all spoke glowingly about their need to have Grace at the helm.
In her speech, Grace warned against divisions in the party saying if that continued, Zanu PF would collapse.
“You see what is happening to the MDC. The party will get to 20 parties because of divisions and if we are not careful the same thing will happen to our party,” she said.
“Leadership comes from above. People will elect you into leadership because of your merits. The opportune time will always come if you were meant to be a leader without backbiting others”.
Muchinguri said it was now time for Grace to take an active role in politics and protect dedicated party leaders from those furthering their personal ambitions.