HARARE – Analysts say there is a real danger that Zanu PF hardliners are manipulating First Lady Grace Mugabe knowing fully well that she now wielded undue influence on President Robert Mugabe.
In interviews with the Daily News on Sunday yesterday, the analysts said all indications were that Grace was now effectively running Zimbabwe and increasingly instructing Mugabe (90) what to do and who to appoint to important national offices.
This sentiment was made as Mugabe himself has also recently publicly intimated that he is often instructed what to do by Grace.
Speaking at Zanu PF’s damp squib “elective” congress in Harare last week, the president meekly admitted to the party’s 12 000 delegates that the First Lady tended to direct him on what to say and do, be it at home or while on official engagements.
This was after Grace was seen furiously advising the nonagenarian what to say, even going to the extent of ordering him to sit down at some point because Mugabe was allegedly talking too much.
The analysts who spoke to the Daily News on Sunday yesterday said the fact that Mugabe had seemingly now carried through all of the commands and threats that Grace had pronounced on in the past few months, almost to the letter, meant that the First Lady now wielded undue influence on her aged husband.
However, they said, there was a danger that a coterie of hardliners within Zanu PF were in turn expediently “manipulating” Grace behind the scenes so that she could then instruct her husband what to do, which suited their agendas.
One of the analysts said Grace had “officially joined the powerful club of presidents’ wives” around the world who usurped power from their ageing husbands.
“In recent months, since her headlong plunge into politics, the First Lady, just like Mao’s Jiang Qing, who is also affectionately referred to as Madame Mao, is virtually in control and has forced Mugabe to fire (former Vice President) Joice Mujuru and her allies and also had a strong hand in the new Cabinet sworn in on Friday.
“Ironically, Madam Mao and Grace both started as personal assistants to their future husbands, and when their better halves began to lose grip on power, they have both stepped up to the plate and unofficially taken over,” he said.
At 90, Mugabe’s grip on power is on the decline just like Mao in the late 1960s. Mao suffered from Parkinson’s Disease, rendering him weaker and weaker not only physically but politically as well.
When Mao lay on his death bed, Jiang was appointed the director of the Central Cultural Revolution Group in 1966 and she exercised absolute power in China together with her so-called “Gang of Four”, namely, Zhang Chuqiao , Wang Hangwen, Yao Wenyuan and Jiangqing.
The notorious clique terrorised real and perceived enemies, with the resultant death toll hitting an estimated 500 000 people from 1966 to 1969. Many fled into exile, including Deng Xiaoping, Mao’s arch-rival.
Similarly, American First Lady Edith Wilson, wife to Woodrow Wilson, secretly and unofficially in October 1919 and for some weeks afterwards, ran the US government following her husband’s life-changing stroke.
More recently, the former First Lady of Zambia, Christine Sata, temporarily commandeered presidential powers in October after her husband was indisposed by poor health.
“Likewise, Grace has, in my opinion, also taken over the running of Zimbabwe from Mugabe, who is slowly losing grip due to advanced age and deteriorating health associated with old age,” an analyst who requested anonymity said.
In October, Grace toured Zimbabwe declaring that Mujuru and her people would be “baby dumped”.
And rightly so, Mujuru and other party heavyweights such as Didymus Mutasa, Nicholas Goche and Webster Shamu have all been dumped unceremoniously, amid accusations that they were plotting to oust and assassinate the nonagenarian.
In addition, nine Zanu PF provincial chairpersons linked to Mujuru, as well as many other party officials and Cabinet ministers have been removed from office, after they crossed Grace’s path.
Eldred Masunungure, a University of Zimbabwe political scientist, said the First Lady unofficially took over the running of Zimbabwe a long time ago although this had only come into the public domain recently.
“It is not a new development. It has been obtaining all this while but it became visible recently.
“Anyone can tell that even in 2004 she was the one in charge. She said she is the one who put the former VP in that post. While in 2004 it was covered up, now it has come out in the open.
“First ladies and wives of sitting presidents generally have immense influence on the running of a country. They are the powers behind the throne especially when a president is of advanced age and his health is fragile,” Masunungure said.
Alex Magaisa, a Kent University law lecturer in the UK, described Grace as the “proverbial King maker” who oversaw the annihilation of the Mujuru faction.
“I think there is a strong case to be made for the view that she now has enormous influence in our politics and that she has become something of the proverbial ‘kingmaker’. She led the offensive against Mujuru and it was very personal.
“She demanded that she resigns or be ‘baby-dumped’ and this has happened. She warned (Ray) Kaukonde and told the whole world that she had a personal grudge against him and he too is gone.
“Many others have followed. President Mugabe himself confirmed as much although his point came out as a joke.
“The irony was that the disclosure came out as he was being told by his wife to leave the podium. It is evident that he is now being managed and that the younger wife is using her proximity to influence things,” Magaisa said.
Maxwell Saungweme, another political analyst, said the First Lady was capitalising on her husband’s faltering grip on power due to advanced age, to unofficially run the state.
“We are going to witness more drama with Grace being the main actor. Zimbabwe is now effectively run by Grace from their bedroom,” Saungweme said.
But Dewa Mavhinga, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said Mugabe was firmly in control and that he was using his wife to do his dirty things for him.
“Grace Mugabe’s political clout and influence should not be over-exaggerated simply because she took an active public role in insulting former VP Mujuru who had fallen out of political favour with Mugabe,” he said.
Mavhinga said that the first lady’s onslaught on Mujuru and her faction did not mean she was in charge.
“But this does not mean Grace Mugabe is a centrepiece of the winning faction, she is only relevant as long as Mugabe is by her side, otherwise her true political pedigree or lack thereof will only be truly known when Mugabe is off the political stage,” Mavhinga said.
“However it is safe now to conclude that Grace Mugabe’s few months in the political limelight have exposed her as lacking in social wisdom given the way she dwelt on rumours and dished out uncouth insults to senior political leaders.”