HARARE – Speaking to the ZBC in his ritual birthday interview last Friday, as powerful First Lady Grace Mugabe was roasting Zanu PF bigwigs in Buhera for dreaming about succeeding her husband, President Robert Mugabe banished for good the whispers within sections of the warring former liberation movement that she sometimes operates without his blessing.
Mugabe not only lavished praises on Grace, he also backed her to succeed and to hold her own in the deeply-divided ruling party — making it clear in the process that he has been mentoring and guiding her all along, as Zanu PF’s deadly tribal, factional and succession wars have become more intractable.
“She is very acceptable, very much accepted by the people. I thought you saw her on television today (on Friday in Buhera North). It’s fireworks, isn’t it?” he said with a glint of mischief.
“She is well-seasoned now. She is a very strong character. I saw something quite different in her. They (critics) thought she was an ambitious woman who would want to work herself into a position of power,” Mugabe added with much pride and satisfaction.
The previously publicity-shy Grace entered mainstream politics with a bang in 2014, when she landed Zanu PF’s influential post of secretary for the women’s league, in the run-up to the ruling party’s sham congress that year, which saw former long-serving Vice President Joice Mujuru and other senior officials — including former secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa and party spokesperson Rugare Gumbo — being expelled from the former liberation movement.
Mugabe also moved to defend his decision to allow the First Lady to enter politics in his interview with the State broadcaster, drawing parallels with the role that his late first wife Sally — who also led the women’s league — had played.
“But I had my first wife Sally … she organised the women. We did not have the women’s league here. The Ghana style, the (Kwame) Nkrumah style of the women’s league which gained acceptance in our region was introduced by my wife and others in Zimbabwe, my late wife (Sally) I mean.
“But in fact people were saying aah, the leaders must not disallow their wives from participating in politics. We want their wives to lead us. But what you get nowadays from some quotas is that the leader’s wife should not participate in politics. Why not? Why not?” the nonagenarian asked.
And as the ZBC interview was being recorded, Grace was on the same day laying into ambitious Zanu PF bigwigs, as well as all those calling on her husband to retire at her rally in Buhera.
“As Zanu PF, we have an upper hand, but sometimes we want to throw away the gifts that we are given by God. That man (Mugabe) is irreplaceable. Whether you like it or not, what is in him comes from God.
“We have a problem when our leader is insulted. Hatisi kuzodyiwa takatarisa samatemba (we won’t be abused while we are watching helplessly).
“We may be quiet but we are watching. The media is being given money to write stories and sometimes they would have been threatened . . . they are being fed,” Grace said.
“I cannot be told by someone whom he (Mugabe) began with in 1980 that he is old. That is unfair. If you want him to go motobva mese totora over isusu (leave and we will take over).
“You will hear people saying you want Mugabe to continue so that you will remain as the first lady. It’s unfair. Don’t expect me to tell him to retire when there are millions who voted for him.
“There can be miracles. If God decides that Mugabe should go and we put pictures of his corpse on the ballot paper, people will still vote for him and he will win the election,” she told the gathered Zanu PF supporters.
In May last year, Grace also stunned thousands of Zanu PF supporters who had gathered in Harare for a solidarity rally with her husband when she said Mugabe would rule Zimbabwe from the grave.
“We want you to lead this country from your grave, while you lie at the National Heroes Acre,” she said.
And speaking during a rally at Murehwa Business Centre in 2015, the influential first lady also warned Zanu PF heavyweights that she was going to design a special wheelchair from which Mugabe would rule until he was 100 years old.
“We are going to create a special wheelchair for President Mugabe until he rules to 100 years because that is what we want. That is the people’s choice. We want a leader that respects us,” she said.
The Zanu PF youth league has also since formally moved a motion, at the ruling party’s annual conference which was held in Masvingo last December, for Mugabe to be declared life president.
During his Friday interview, Mugabe also bluntly dismissed his colleagues in the party as not being worthy and acceptable candidates to take over from him.
He said he would soldier on in power — notwithstanding his advanced age and declining health — and would only step down if Zanu PF asked him to do so.
“The call to step down must come from my party, my party at congress, my party at central committee … I will step down.
“But then what do you see? It’s the opposite. They want me to stand for elections. They want me to stand for elections everywhere in the party.
“Of course, if I feel that I can’t do it anymore, I will say so to my party so that they relieve me. But for now I think I can’t say so … The majority of the people feel that there is no replacement, a successor who to them is acceptable, as acceptable as I am,” Mugabe said.
“But the people, you know, would want to judge everyone else on the basis of President Mugabe as the criteria.
“But I have been at it for a longer period than anyone else and leaders will have to be, as it were, given time to develop and to have the ability to meet with the people and to be judged by the people.
“Silently, in the majority of cases, the people must see and be convinced that yes, so and so can be the successor. Others think, yaa, yaa, that they are this in the party, they are capable of succeeding the president. It’s not that easy,” he added as he rubbished his ambitious lieutenants.
His statement was seen as slamming the door shut in the face of his longtime aide Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who until recently had been touted as a front-runner to succeed the nonagenarian.
Stung by this damning statement, Mnangagwa’s angry allies have come out guns blazing, warning the increasingly frail nonagenarian that he faced a big fight if he continued to thwart the Midlands godfather’s mooted presidential aspirations.
Mnangagwa’s supporters also said on Monday that they would now openly campaign for him as Mugabe’s successor, raising the stakes high in the succession saga.
Zanu PF is deeply-divided over Mugabe’s succession, with a faction of young party Turks going by the moniker Generation 40 (G40) rabidly opposed to Mnangagwa succeeding Mugabe, and squaring up against the VP’s allies, Team Lacoste.