After years of skirting around the succession issue, President Robert Mugabe finally laid out his cards and came short of declaring that his 51-year-old wife was next in line – after his death.
Mugabe told ZTV in his traditional birthday interview last week that Grace had become acceptable to the people while dismissing senior Zanu PF leaders often linked to his throne as no hoppers.
Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa has of late been linked to the presidency, with some of his vocal supporters publicly declaring their frustration with Mugabe over his reluctance to pass on the baton.
University of Zimbabwe political science guru Eldred Masunungure said Mugabe was paving the way for his wife to take over power.
However, he warned that the veteran ruler could have misread local politics after declaring that the volatile Grace was now more mature and popular with the people.
Masunungure said although Grace had showed a great deal of maturity since 2014 when she led the ouster of former vice-president Joice Mujuru, assuming she was popular enough to be accepted as president was overstretching one’s imagination.
“What is obvious is that Mugabe is testing the waters. He is paving way for his wife to take over,” he said.
“The president is partly right on maturity. But on acceptability, if Grace is to take over, it should be during Mugabe’s time.
“If you remove the president, her power melts. She is nothing without the president.
“That is her tragedy; she will need the blessings of her husband while he is still alive. Alone, she cannot stand.”
Harare-based political analyst Alexander Rusero said it appeared Mugabe had settled for his wife as his successor, but warned that it would not be smooth sailing for the former typist.
“Zimbabwe politics is grounded on egoistic politics of personalities,” he said.
“We might disapprove of what Mugabe is saying, but what the president is simply saying is, he is the starting and end of Zanu PF and what he says goes and is telling the people to rally behind his wife,” Rusero added.
“It is clear Grace is a juvenile in Zanu PF politics, but with Mugabe around her, she has the power.
“Grace understands that and that is why she is proposing even using Mugabe’s corpse in elections. She knows where she is drawing her power from.”
Ivan Vava, a political commentator said Mugabe had already endorsed his wife, but was misguided in thinking she was now accepted.
“If anything, the people that attended her rallies are either coerced or they are there to collect goodies and freebies,” he said.
Zimbabwe People First spokesperson, Jealousy Mawarire said Mugabe had found a useful tool in Grace as he tries to keep factions angling for his post at bay.
“In terms of political maturity, she is wanting, but Mugabe could be saying she has matured in being an arsenal to use against his perceived political opponents,” he said.
“When Mugabe talks about Grace’s political maturity, the temptation is to understand that in the normative sense of political maturity.
“However, what is likely is that Grace has graduated into the ideal political tool that Mugabe uses to decimate opponents, the garrulous, verbally abusive and uncouth political persona who cares very little about morality, decency and human dignity.
“That is the maturity, the thick-skin that Mugabe inculcated into his wife for her to fight his factional battles.”
Since taking over as the Zanu PF leader in 1976, Mugabe has used cunning tricks to stay at the helm of the party.
Discussion on his successor has been taboo in the national political discourse and indeed, a few who dared challenge his hegemony found themselves languishing in the political wilderness.
After decimating late vice-president Joshua Nkomo’s Zapu using the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade under the guise of thwarting a dissident movement, Mugabe gave himself majestic executive powers and tried to force the country into a one party-state system.
But late former Zanu PF secretary-general Edgar Tekere immediately saw the dangers of Mugabe’s plans and successfully blocked him by splitting from the revolutionary party and forming the Zimbabwe Unity Movement, although it did not change Mugabe’s plan to be life president.
A decade later, Masvingo legislator Dzikamai Mavhaire shocked all and sundry in Zanu PF by openly telling Mugabe to retire while debating on presidential term limits in Parliament.
Mavhaire’s call was no doubt a confirmation of a rebellion against Mugabe that had started to gather momentum.
Although the maverick MP was sanctioned, the agenda had been set and Mugabe’s retirement remained topical on the minds of many party members, albeit silently.
The 2004 Tsholotsho Declaration, building on the power gap left by the death of Vice-President Simon Muzenda in 2003, marked a watershed period to the open defiance of the 93-year-old leader’s rule after the Mavhaire “Mugabe must go” refrain.
Since then, Zanu PF has been imploding, with factions locked in bitter power struggles as bigwigs prepare for life after Mugabe.
The most serious challenge to Mugabe’s rule took place during Zanu PF’s 2006 conference held in Goromonzi as factions led by Mnangagwa and Mujuru drew lines in the sand.
But Mugabe emerged the winner again and the now wary strongman became more combative on thwarting succession talks, making it treasonous to talk about who would take over from him. The Standard