RESIDENT Robert Mugabe appears to have anointed his wife, Grace, as his possible successor after describing her as “fireworks” and “well-seasoned now” to withstand the political heat within and outside the ruling Zanu PF party circles.
In a wide-ranging pre-recorded interview with State television ahead of his 93rd birthday yesterday, Mugabe said Grace, who is the Zanu PF women’s league boss, had now mastered the art of absorbing political pressure and criticism, adding she was “very much accepted by the people”.
“The criticism I get is from the opposition. From the party (Zanu PF), well, there have been a few criticisms from (people like war veterans’ leader Christopher) Mutsvangwa and so on and so forth that you know. I saw something quite different in her,” he said.
“They thought she was an ambitious woman, who would want to work herself into a position of power.”
Mugabe said in the past party members implored leaders not to disallow their wives from seeking political positions in the party, saying “we want their wives to lead us”.
“But what we get nowadays, from some quarters, is that leaders’ wives must not participate in politics, why not?”
The President, who in the same interview all but ruled out his deputies from succeeding him, saying there was no one acceptable to take over from him, changed tack, insisting Grace was suitable and had been accepted.
“She is very acceptable, very much accepted by the people. I thought you saw her on television today (Friday) … it’s fireworks, isn’t it?” he said, before breaking into mirth.
“She’s well-seasoned now, she’s a very strong character.”
Grace, who last week resumed her rallies, has declared that none among the current crop of Zanu PF bigwigs is qualified to succeed her husband, which Mugabe seemed to endorse in the interview.
The First Lady has made some bizarre suggestions, saying Mugabe would rule from a wheelchair or from the grave, upping the ante last week, when she said even the President’s corpse would win elections, as there was no one as popular as him.
Some within Zanu PF have accused Mugabe of being behind Grace’s rants.
In the interview, Mugabe also said holding a senior party position or having worked with him for many years in government did not translate to being a potential successor, in remarks widely believed to be aimed at Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who for long had been regarded as his heir apparent after serving as the veteran politician’s confidant for over 52 years.
Mugabe said his successor would only come from the people at an appropriate time.
“Silently, in the majority of the cases, the people must see and be convinced that, yes, so-and-so can be a good successor,” he said.
“Others think because they have been this long in the party or are this in the party, they are capable of succeeding the President. It’s not easy.”
The Zanu PF leader’s remarks are seen as shutting the door on Mnangagwa and could precipitate his removal in the same way his predecessor, Joice Mujuru, was jettisoned.
Mnangagwa is reportedly linked to a faction called Team Lacoste, which wants him to succeed Mugabe, but is facing resistance from the G40 camp, which is said to have Grace’s backing.
Both Mnangagwa and Grace have repeatedly denied leading any factions in Zanu PF or harbouring ambitions to succeed Mugabe.