ZANU PF’s warring factions that are threatening to tear apart the former revolutionary party have revealed that First Lady Grace Mugabe is responsible for the ongoing bitter succession debacle amid reports she has been playing a double game by meeting and encouraging members from the two main factions battling for supremacy in the party.
Two factions, one backing Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Generation 40 (G40), a grouping of young Turks who have the support of Grace have been at loggerheads as they seek to control the party and eventually succeed President Robert Mugabe, who turns 92 on February 21.
Although Grace spoke glowingly of Mnangagwa in the run up to the party’s December 2014 congress, which swept aside former vice-president Joice Mujuru, then a favourite to succeed Mugabe, she now flip-flops whenever it suits her since he was appointed President Robert Mugabe’s deputy. At times she praises him in public and then belittles him on other occasions. While Mnangagwa’s backers insist Mugabe has privately indicated to his deputy that he would succeed him given his experience and long history in Zanu PF and also because of the long cordial relationship the pair enjoys, members of G40 insist the First Lady does not trust Mnangagwa, and is in fact, working flat out to ensure his presidential plans are derailed.
“This is why the likes of Jonathan Moyo, Saviour Kasukuwere and young boys like Makhosini Hlongwane and Tapiwa Matangaidze can dare to stand up to Mnangagwa, despite his reputation as an iron-fisted man. They are getting strength and encouragement from somewhere and indications are that they are getting support and assurance from Grace,” said a party official.
Privately though, like she has done in public, Grace has indicated to Mnangagwa that she has no presidential ambitions and was not involved with the G40 Group.
“While the G40 group is confident, on the other hand, the Mnangagwa faction believes they are in control and this is because they have received assurance from the First Family,” said a senior party official. “It is therefore not a surprise that (Presidential spokesman George) Charamba, who is clearly fighting in Mnangagwa’s corner brutally attacked G40 members in his radio interview last week. He was speaking with the authority of a person who knows the president’s thinking.”
But G40 members, who have indicated they will relentlessly attack and weaken Mnangagwa, believe Grace’s wish will prevail as long as Mugabe remains in power, and have not relented despite Charamba’s warning.
In public, Grace has been vacillating between supporting Mnangagwa and the G40, confusing many people in the process.
For example, in a high-risk and adventurous power-seeking manoeuvre, Grace in October last year threatened a political tsunami against Mnangagwa at a politically-charged rally in Chimanimani.
“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, in remarks largely seen as being pointed at the vice-president.
While she took a swipe at Mnangagwa, Grace introduced to the gatherings the G40 proponents who include Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko, Zanu PF national commissar Saviour Kasukuwere, who is also Local Government minister, Indigenisation minister Patrick Zhuwao and Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo.
However, a few weeks later Grace somersaulted in the Midlands province and accused “some elements” within and outside Zanu PF of desperately seeking to pit her against Mnangagwa, saying she had great respect for the vice-president and had a lot to learn from him.
In a private briefing before the rally, she told officials her family exchanges milk with VP Mnangagwa adding “you know milk is such a sensitive product and that shows the faith and trust that exists between us”.
The Mnangagwa faction dubbed the rally “The Mberengwa Massacre” after Grace publicly showed her support for Mnangagwa.
The VP’s joy was, however, short-lived.
Barely 24 hours later she backtracked while addressing hundreds of Zanu PF supporters in Murehwa, Mashonaland East province in the company of Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi, Grace said no one in the party, besides Mugabe, was senior to her by virtue of her being the First Lady.
“The Herald lied that I said I am junior to Vice-President Mnangagwa. I never said he is my senior. I just said I respect him as the VP and that he is more experienced than me. I might be new in Zanu PF, but I am not junior to anyone. I am the wife of the President,” she said.
Grace warned leaders not to impose themselves on the people.
“If you get excited, people are vetting (you). Many people are fanning factionalism, but people in the grassroots are not fools. Even if there is factionalism, mugoti unopiwa anyerere (Rewards are given to those that are humble),” Grace said, insinuating a humble person like Sekeramayi, who is being mentioned as a presidential candidate for G40 could prevail in the succession race.
Last week Charamba dismissed reports that Grace was part of the G40 faction labelling those who believed so, fools.
“How does the First Lady talk about succession of her husband, does it make sense to you? These are people who think by sheer proximity, they can build messages around the First Family. They are fools, get it from me, they are big fools and I hope some day they will come back to their senses,” Charamba said.
Despite Charamba’s warning, a seemingly confident Moyo dismissed him as a factionalist who is fighting in Mnangagwa’s corner.
“For the record, I wish to state that it is false and insulting to His Excellency, the President, to claim that he sent George Charamba to savage his cabinet ministers and politburo members on public radio with all sorts of primitive insults such as ‘uneducated fools’, ‘little men’, among other unprintable epithets,” he said adding, “Cabinet members and politburo members are not civil servants, but are presidential appointees.”
War Veterans minister Christopher Mutsvangwa also accused G40 of trying to coalesce and influence Grace.
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said it was not surprising that Grace could be giving an ear to both factions: “Grace faces the same quandary Mugabe is confronting of close lieutenants tearing each other apart in the pursuit of proximity to the First Family.
“So it’s not surprising that she has been sipping from both factions. She is the biggest game in town and all factions find it expedient to entice her. But at the end one of the factions will lose. Moyo gets the bravado to continue his onslaught on Charamba and Mutsvangwa because of Grace’s backing. But also Charamba seems to know more about the First Family’s plans given that he is a key arsenal of the family,” Saungweme said.