THE SHRILL panic with which Grace Mugabe, supported by Oppah Muchinguri, moved to force the removal and swift replacement of Joice Mujuru left most Zimbabweans wondering what might have spooked the country’s First Lady into action.
Muchinguri offered to step down as head of the Zanu PF women’s league so Grace could take over, and the First Lady used her subsequent nomination to stage whirlwind rallies across the country which she used to denounce Mujuru and prepare the ground for her ouster.
Mujuru has since been replaced by Emmerson Mnangagwa with Phelekezela Mphoko coming in as second vice president in a shake-up that saw several cabinet ministers whose loyalty President Robert Mugabe considered suspect being fired.
However, Muchinguri, perhaps inadvertently, or wittingly even, let slip the likelihood of even more significant changes to the country’s leadership as the vice presidents and ministers took their oaths before Mugabe at State House last Friday.
Mugabe turns 91 in two months’ time. He claims to be in fantastic physical shape for a man his age, but several “telling” gaffes at the Zanu PF congress were seen to suggest his advanced age is now taking its toll on a man who has led the country for 34 years.
But clearly addressing murmurs that the brutal government and Zanu PF purges were aimed at finally resolving – before stepping down – the succession question in a way that secures his family’s physical and material security, Mugabe declared that he would remain in office as long as he was sane.
The party even agreed he would be its candidate for the 2018 general elections.
However, Friday’s remarks by Muchinguri renewed speculation that the veteran leader has probably decided to retire.
Asked by journalists whether the removal of Mujuru and the appointment of an all-male “top three” at State and in the ruling party did not represent a huge setback for women’s empowerment, Muchinguri said: “Something will soon be done to deal with that.
“I can’t reveal it here, or discuss about it, but soon you will see something being done to solve that (the absence of women in the presidium).”
UK-based political analyst Alex Magaisa said Muchinguri’s remarks were in keeping with his own suspicion that Mugabe would not remain in office beyond 2015.
Speaking to us Sunday evening, Magaisa said he expects Mugabe to step down next year with Mnangagwa taking over as President.
What Muchinguri meant, Magaisa suggested, could be that when Mugabe steps down and Mnangagwa takes over, a woman – possibly Grace – would then come in as second vice president, thus addressing the female absence in the presidium.
However, Harare-based commentator Ibbo Mandaza was not convinced, and insisted that Mugabe, as he declared at the Zanu PF congress, would not be going anywhere.
“Mugabe will not retire; he wants to die in office. The absence of a woman in the presidium is not significant because the First Lady is a very senior post. If that reality (that Grace is powerful) was not clear before, it is now.
“What will likely happen is that Grace will also be appointed to cabinet.”
Still, Magaisa said Grace’s evident panic as she attacked Mujuru suggested she was intimately aware of the challenges that the President could dealing with and which may be related to his health and advanced age.
Grace’s allegations that Mujuru was corrupt, incompetent and plotting a coup against Mugabe were just a red-herring, said Magaisa.
“As a spouse, Grace would be aware of his (Mugabe’s) situation and the need to act fast,” he said.
And in view of that possible “urgent situation” about the President’s health, Magaisa added, Mujuru might have invited her brutal purge by failing to give clear guarantees to the panicked Grace regarding her physical and material security.
Either that or the former vice president, in an unguarded moment, possibly said something that made the First Lady decide her interests would not be secure under a Mujuru presidency, forcing her to ensure her downfall before it was too late.
Grace was then, post haste, billeted into the top structures of the ruling party as head of the Women’s League while Mnangagwa, a man Mugabe could trust with his and the first family’s physical and material security, was elevated to first vice president.
“At some point the ruling party will have to choose a successor and Mnangagwa now has an advantage over his rivals,” said Magaisa.
“I also expect Mugabe, as part of efforts to ensure the security of his family, to appoint Grace to his cabinet, probably as minister for women’s affairs.
“In fact, this could have been done in last week’s cabinet changes but Mugabe, quite likely, did not want the First Lady to draw attention away from the appointment of the vice presidents.
“My suspicion is that Mugabe will step down in 2015.”