FIRST Lady Grace Mugabe was feted like a queen during her high profile visit to Manicaland last Thursday.
by XOLISANI NCUBE/OBEY MANAYITI
She arrived in Chimanimani aboard a presidential helicopter which was escorted by another military plane.
As Grace’s influence continues to rise, at least 16 ministers abandoned their offices in Harare to attend her rally.
They joined about 40 MPs, as well as several Zanu PF politburo and central committee members who jostled to greet her as she arrived.
Most of the 8 000 people who were bussed from all over Manicaland were donning T-shirts with messages praising Grace and boldly declaring that she was “unconquerable and unstoppable”.
Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko, who is senior to Mugabe’s wife in terms of hierarchy, behaved more like Grace’s aide.
He had to endure the humiliation of introducing Grace — his subordinate — to the people.
Speaker after speaker, including Cabinet ministers, fell over each other as they bootlicked Grace who was being treated more like the defacto President of Zimbabwe.
Grace also flaunted her financial muscle to go with her newly-found political power.
She came loaded with donations which she doled out to the thousands that came to listen to her.
Among the goods were tractors, 25 000 litres of cooking oil, and 3 000 bars of washing soap, 3 120 tablets of bath soap and 240kg of washing power.
She also handed out 4 358 pairs of shoes, 100 tonnes of fertiliser and 250 tonnes of maize.
Her show of force in Manicaland left no doubt that she is positioning herself to succeed her 91 year-old husband, the only leader Zimbabweans have known since independence in 1980.
But analysts have warned Grace’s newly-found power could only last while her husband is still alive and as such, she should not get carried away.
The analysts said the reason senior government officials, including vice-presidents were seen in public grovelling around her seeking favours and protection from political wilderness was because they feared Mugabe.
Although she claims she acts independently, political analysts say the First Lady is riding on the back of Mugabe’s political power.
The analysts said Grace had the sense of security to attack anyone she chooses regardless of their political seniority.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer, Eldred Masunungure said although the First Lady was a politburo member and had a right to address party rallies at will, her current power and penchant to attack anyone opposed to her was “imparted immunity” from the presidency.
“On her own as Grace Mugabe without President Robert Mugabe, she is nobody and she might fail to do what she is currently doing when Mugabe is no longer there as President,” Masunungure said.
“She is just using her borrowed power to attack anyone from the former VP, Joice Mujuru to her current victims.
“You can’t say she has political clout that can withstand Zanu PF fissures, but people just respect her because she is married to President Mugabe.”
He said Grace knew that everybody in Zanu PF feared Mugabe and not her.
“She knows that life after Mugabe could be a challenge hence she wants to create a power base now when a shield is there to protect her from anyone who may want to oppose her. Once that shield is gone, she will be exposed to the reality of what Zanu PF is,” Masunungure said.
After she decimated former Vice-President Joice Mujuru using her husband’s power, Grace is now wielding the same axe on other party members whom she suspects are working to topple her and her husband.
Grace has become such a source of fear many party members have taken to hero worshipping her as a way of saving their political scalps.
The use of T-shirts inscribed, Munhu Wese Kuna Amai . . . “The unconquerable” is the current most popular way to show support or the former typist’s ascendancy.
Evidence that she uses Mugabe to be as untouchable as she has become was shown upon their return from New York two weeks ago, when Mugabe warned party members against doing anything to stop her. Nobody should stand in her way, he warned.
During her Chimanimani rally, Grace boasted that anybody who dared cross her path would be thrown into the cold.
Grace has been associated with the G40 faction along with Mphoko, political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere and politburo member and Mugabe’s nephew Patrick Zhuwao.
However, her backers claim the First Lady is not aiming high but was simply solidifying her position as the women’s league boss.
Analysts said there was nothing serious to celebrate at the moment as it was apparent Grace would not take over from Mugabe.
“As a Zimbabwean, no legitimate case can be raised against her interest in the presidency,” said Simukai Tinhu.
“However, she is smarter than what many think. She knows that odds are against her presidency.
“She has no power base, her allies are ‘transient’ and she is very much aware that her ambitions, if she has any, would immediately collapse if anything happened to her husband.”
Mugabe has become weaker physically and depends on his wife for many things, including walking at public functions as he mostly leans on her or she firmly holds his hand as they walk together at most public events.
“With her elevation to the position of leader of Zanu PF women’s league as a starting point, she has found public life thoroughly enjoyable, and she is unlikely to relinquish herself from politics anytime soon,” Tinhu said
“Even after her husband’s departure, she will want to continue playing that role, hence she will support a faction that will ensure her continued role in politics, but not anywhere near the presidency.”
Another political analyst, Takura Zhangazha said Grace was merely consolidating her husband’s hold on power, although she was fast becoming the second in command of the party and disregarding other organs.
Zhangazha said the gesture by Grace to donate several expensive items was now a creation of a new materialist culture to the national politics.
“What the First Lady and the ruling Zanu PF party are doing is to make politics a very expensive and exclusive endeavour,” he said.
“In the process they intend to create the impression of a reality in which Zanu PF becomes undefeatable in the minds of ordinary citizens.”
Some said while her star may be rising and her influence expanding, it remained to be seen how the Mnangagwa faction, which seems to be under siege at the moment, would regroup and challenge her without being seen as opposing Mugabe.