FIRST Lady Grace Mugabe has again emerged as a leading contender in the race to take over from her ageing husband President Robert Mugabe after resuming her high profile rallies.
Mugabe, now 91, shows clear signs of slowing down but there is no indication from him that he is ready to cede power.
For decades now, the ruling party has been rocked by internecine power struggles that boiled over at the end of last year, resulting in the expulsion of then Vice-President Joice Mujuru from both government and party.
While public sentiment seems to agree that Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa is a “heartbeat away from power”, Grace last week said that not even her husband “can stop me”.
Although she has publicly claimed disinterest in taking the throne, the First Lady appears to have thrown down the gauntlet,embarking on a new set of rallies across the country that analysts agree could be a platform for her to build a base as a potential Mugabe successor.
A politburo member who spoke on condition he was not identified, revealed yesterday that there was terror within Zanu PF circles that Mugabe might just do the unthinkable.
“There is genuine fear that Mugabe might just be subtly prodding her in the direction of power without really coming out in the open.
“He has already indicated ‘is she not a Zimbabwean’ and Grace betrayed herself by continuously indicating left and turning right,”the official said.
“If some stupid character within the party, and there are thousands of them, were to wake up tomorrow and suggest the moronic vanhu vese kunaAmai [all support to the First Lady] mantra as literally Grace must take over, then we are done for. Surely no one can stop this woman”.
The politburo member’s fears seem to have been confirmed at last week’s rally in Murombedzi, Mashonaland West where supporters chanted a new slogan, “Pasi nevanoti Eva haatonge”loosely translated to mean “To hell with those who think a woman cannot rule”.
University of Zimbabwe lecturer and political scientist Eldred Masunungure said Grace’s current spate of rallies could be her way of trying to build a national profile.
“The motivation is likely to be bigger than just meeting structures. She could be entrenching her position and marketing herself on a national scale as a potential candidate,” he said.
“She is, however, terribly behind in-terms of building a stateswoman- like character when compared with other touted candidates.
“Another undoing for her is that she did not participate in the liberation war.
“It is a vital salient point within Zanu PF and will be so for some time to come until the current generation goes,” Masunungure added.
Another analyst Alexander Rusero concurred.
“The rallies are a way of asserting her authority and a platform to remind all and sundry that you ignore Grace at your own peril in the Zanu PF succession matrix,” he said.
“She wants to show that she is ready and Mugabe’s absence at the rallies is meant to communicate the message that Grace is her own woman and ready to take the plunge with or without Mugabe’s support.”
Political analyst Pedzisai Ruhanya believes Zimbabweans are ready for a woman president.
“There was goodwill for Mujuru before she was stampeded out of Zanu PF and I think the people are ready for a good leader, man or woman, but only one of very good character, which Grace may come short of,” said Ruhanya.
Ibbo Mandaza, an academic who Mugabe recently claimed had been involved in sinister plots to oust him, has been quoted widely in the media saying Grace had betrayed her ambitions.
“If there was any doubt previously, now it is clear she has bigger ambitions. She has elevated herself to the level of even the President,” Mandaza argues.
Afghanistan-based Maxwell Saungweme said while anything was possible, Grace would further divide the ruling party.
“Anything is possible in Zimbabwean politics. In Zanu PF everything is based on personality cults and given her proximity to the centre of power, she is a probable candidate to take over,” he said.
“Forget about the political banter and suggestions that she is not interested.
“A day in Zimbabwean politics is too long a time, she could take over.”
Following her elevation to the party’s leadership and a subsequent seat on the all-powerful communist style politburo, Grace has flaunted her newly-found authority with reckless abandon; at one time declaring: “even the two Vice-Presidents
[Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko] take notes from me”.
But Ruhanya argued Grace’s political future depended on Mugabe.
“She can only be president of Zanu PF and Zimbabwe if her husband installs her,” he said.
“Beyond that, there is no process that will take her into the presidency. However, she has power to influence who will take over from Mugabe.”
Ruhanya said Grace did not fit the Zanu PF description of its preferred leader.