ZIMBABWE – In a high-risk and adventurous power-seeking manoeuvre, First Lady Grace Mugabe (pictured) yesterday intensified her blitz threatening a political tsunami against Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his chutzpah-filled faction pressing to take its leader to State House.
Grace — in an ominous sign she wants to clear all hurdles on her path to power — daringly fired more warning shots across Mnangagwa’s bows in thinly-veiled remarks at a politically-charged rally in Chimanimani, forewarning he could eventually suffer the same fate as his ousted predecessor Joice Mujuru.
“Only yesterday, just last year when we witnessed some people being expelled, I had said I’m a referee. I will blow the whistle whenever it gets ugly. I’m not scared to blow the whistle. So don’t push me to the point where I have to blow the whistle,” she warned.
“Zanu PF is like a soccer team, so you should know that you are in a soccer match as part of a team and you must know the referee is watching you. If you kick the ball and kick someone else’s knee, the referee will blow the whistle. The tone of the whistle is always determined by how you play. If it is blown so loud that it’s heard in Mozambique then you’re out, you the player. So I’m saying all those who are engaging in factionalism should stop it forthwith.”
Grace’s attacks escalated President Robert Mugabe’s succession battle to precarious levels as her ailing and frail 91-year old husband faces a chilling endgame after 35 years in power.
The First Lady further confirmed there is now a vicious power struggle between herself and Mnangagwa in the aftermath of Zanu PF’s acrimonious congress last December when she addressed the rally at Mutambara Mission in Chimanimani district, Manicaland province, yesterday.
“Factionalism yakashata (factionalism is evil). We don’t want it. Those of you who are engaging in factionalism please stop it forthwith,” Grace said in remarks reminiscent of the polemics she used last year’s during her so-called ‘meet-the-people’ rallies which culminated in the removal of Mujuru.
Besides Mujuru, there were also a number of high profile political casualties, including former party secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa and spokesperson Rugare Gumbo. A number of senior Zanu PF politburo members and ministers were also purged.
Grace used the stage to remind Mnangagwa and all her opponents of her important role in the Zanu PF succession matrix, likening herself to a referee with the powers of cautioning and even red-carding those players who fall foul of the rules.
Given Mnangagwa is widely seen as the frontrunner to take over Mugabe, Grace seems to be positioning herself to be a kingmaker or the candidate to succeed her husband. Her “refereeing” is seen as partisan or even self-serving.
In the aftermath of the removal of Mujuru, it was initially assumed Mnangagwa is now shoo-in to succeed Mugabe. However, for the past 10 months after Zanu PF’s bitter congress, internal resistance to Mnangagwa has been growing with Grace behaving like a contender in the succession race.
The race also reportedly features other hopefuls including Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko, Zanu PF political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere and Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantine Chiwenga.
While Mnangagwa and Mphoko emerged as appointed vice-presidents after congress, Grace has been using every public platform to remind, particularly Mnangagwa, that he is a mere appointee, not an heir apparent. She has even gone to extent of humiliating him and Mphoko, saying they take orders from her in their roles even if she has no constitutional executive authority.
Yesterday, Grace repeated the warning, saying: “Let us be satisfied with the positions we occupy.
I want to remind all those in leadership positions that all of us were appointed. Yes people vote for us but all those top leadership positions are by appointment by President Robert Mugabe. We should work hard knowing that we were appointed to work for the people’s benefit.”
Grace also made charges of rampant corruption within the senior party leadership and government officials ranks, evoking the spectre of her vicious campaign against Mujuru, dominated by accusations of extortion and bribery.
She stepped up the attacks against her rivals, saying one of them is just as good as “naked in public despite being fully clothed because people are aware of his corrupt nature.”
A trend has been developing of late in which Mugabe and Grace systematically attack Mnangagwa and his camp obliquely or without mentioning them by name.
In January, barely a month after Mnangagwa and Mphoko’s appointments, Mugabe told party supporters the two should remember they were now national and not regional or factional leaders.
“Mnangagwa is not just a leader of the Midlands province; he is now a national leader. Even Mphoko is not only a Matabeleland leader but he is now a national leader,” Mugabe said. “That is what I want all of us to know.”
Again in June, Mugabe angrily attacked party youths for fuelling factional agendas by backing the two vice-presidents.
“If you are choosing between my two vice-presidents, you are beginning your own Gamatox (Mujuru and her allies),” he said. “They occupy equal sphere. If you say you want this one to succeed, you are already bringing division within the people and this soon after our election.”
These attacks by Mugabe were seized upon by Grace, and in August during a visit to Binga in Matabeleland North province, she attacked the resurgence of factionalism in the party and warned both vice-presidents were not guaranteed to succeed her husband even though she later climbed down temporarily.
“Factionalism is back in Zanu PF and we say down with it. Do not lie to us about what you are capable of. We know you all and what you are capable of. Just ask yourself why God continues giving a 91-year-old (Mugabe) the strength to lead the country. Where have you seen a 91-year-old who can stand for two hours?” she said.
“Acting as president does not mean one is an heir apparent. This is what destroyed Mai Mujuru. Do not be caught offside. Play the game well with others.”
In an apparent confirmation of his fallout with Grace, Mnangagwa and his allies did not attend yesterday’s the rally.
However, Mphoko and many other party and government officials reportedly trying to derail Mnangagwa’s ascendancy were there. These include Mugabe’s nephew Patrick Zhuwao and Kasukuwere. Mphoko, who is also working to build his own national profile and support base, appears drifting towards Grace’s faction
Grace’s attack on Mnangagwa came after Manicaland Provincial Affairs minister Mandi Chimene had told the First Lady in a private briefing attended by party leaders that some bigwigs from the province were throwing spanners in her work and advancing factionalism, in an apparent reference to Environment minister Oppah Muchinguri, a Mnangagwa ally, who was also in the meeting .
“She implored the First Lady to brief President Mugabe of the on-going infighting,” one party official said. “This confirms a renewed succession power struggle is intensifying.”