SPECULATION has been rife as to the significance of the First Lady’s entrance into mainstream Zanu PF politics and its succession implications and consequences. In addition, the role of President Robert Mugabe in the First Lady’s ascendency to the strategic position of the leader of Zanu PF’s Women’s League has created its own confusing and distorted narrative.
President Mugabe officially celebrated his 91st birthday in Victoria Falls on Saturday and like any person of flesh, he would like the Almighty to grant him many more returns. Mugabe remains an enigma and when people think that they understand him through the medium of events that take place in government and the ruling party, he asserts a rare individuality and independence that defies seemingly conventional wisdom that often dominates debates around his true state of mind and intentions.
Even the seating arrangement at the First Lady’s inaugural Politburo meeting created its own buzz and narratives. Equally, the demise of VP Mujuru & Co and the ascendancy of VP Mnangagwa and VP Mphoko created the impression that a causal link existed between the elevation of the First Lady and the two events.
Some have speculated that, by appointing Hon. Mnangagwa as VP, President Mugabe effectively sent the clearest signal that he was on his way out and possibly intended to manage a smooth transition to a new generation of political leadership. Indeed, we were all entitled to draw our own conclusions concerning the developments in Zanu PF both before and after the 6th Congress until President Mugabe’s interview with the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation to mark his 91st birthday.
Contrary to the widely held view that he is no longer in charge, President Mugabe insisted that he was still the Sherriff. With respect to the alleged bedroom coup, President Mugabe dismissed the speculation of bedroom power sharing deal with his wife extending to the organs of state and party. But notwithstanding President Mugabe’s denial of his wife’s influence in the party and possibly in the state, VP Mnangagwa has already weighed in on this by acknowledging the role of the First Lady in VP Mujuru’s political exit.
It is also the case that prior to the appointment of two male VPs, the First Lady had already declared that it was not cast in iron that one of the two VPs must be a woman.The fact that President Mugabe acted accordingly cannot be ignored. In addition, President Mugabe, during the 6th congress, acknowledged that the First Lady has effective control on what he does and says. In fact, she passed a note to him telling him to “finish his speech” and he followed the instruction by collecting his papers and telling the congress that the message on the note was similar to messages that he gets at home.Advertisement
By publicly acknowledging the power of the First Lady, President Mugabe may not have known, what is now commonly known; that the perimeter of the First Lady’s influence has expanded to include not just the house where she is a wife but in all spheres in which he is the paramount chief.
It is significant that in dismissing the narrative that his wife is now the BOSS, President Mugabe asked the rhetorical question: “Why should they (media) think that because of what she has done she is now the power? She is not the power behind my throne; she has not come yet into the real part of things. She has just attended one Politburo meeting, which she did not attend fully because she is not yet strong.”
If anyone had doubts that President Mugabe intends to finish his term and perhaps to exhaust the constitutional limit of two terms, his reaction to a generally held view that the entry of the First Lady into politics is not a zero sum game but a game changer. It may very well be the case that President Mugabe does know what is happening around him including the emergence of a new faction in which his wife is now a key person of interest and influence.
Like any powerful person, it is often the case that proximity to power can be easily converted into primary power. President Mugabe is of the view that he played no part in her ascendancy to power, choosing to believe that: “She has come into politics in her own right.”
This view resonates with President Mugabe’s own values that he is a servant of the people and, therefore, it is not his place to anoint anyone including his wife. He genuinely believes that his wife’s power was a product of the will of the members of the party and that the fact that she is his wife is and was irrelevant.
The president also made the point that: “She has just appeared on behalf of the women and the women asked her to go around addressing people and she agreed and went round, that’s all she did.” He is clearly unaware of the business model put in place to allow his wife to be the undisputed leader of women in the party and her circle of friends who have also found their way into government positions. Clearly, President Mugabe may not even be aware that his choices were manipulated so as to allow only those perceived to be against the so-called Mujuru faction to be given red cards.
In trying to understand President Mugabe, one is guided by comments like: “I have never sanctioned anyone, even my sisters, I used to tell them if you want politics musati matumwa neni (don’t say I sent you).” This may very well be the case in President Mugabe’s mind but in truth and fact, not very many people believe him.
On the contrary, even VP Mujuru & Co chose not to fight back because they genuinely believed that President Mugabe was the driving mind behind the Mazoe Crush Movement. The fact that President Mugabe denies any constructive knowledge about the movement after what has transpired must concern even the protagonists of the victorious movement.
President Mugabe whose honesty cannot be easily disputed had this to say about his wife‘s journey to power: “She (Grace) came to me and said women want me to lead them and I said it’s up to you.” This is the official version revealed to him and he certainly bought into it. After all, his late wife Sally was also involved in the affairs of the party. There can be no doubt that the First Lady has earned President Mugabe’s respect having distinguished herself as a philanthropist and businessperson. In fact, she came to the financial rescue of the youth league when Mujuru & Co appeared to be disengaged and aloof.
President Mugabe, therefore, genuinely holds the view that: “Because of the dynamism with which she came out, it started giving people ideas with some saying she is now the power behind the party, she is now running what the President is doing.” However, people are not generally stupid as they can read the direction of the wind.
Although President Mugabe believes that: “But we have the machinery of the party, we discuss, we decide and now that we have two vice presidents we share ideas,” it cannot be denied that the VPs know better where the centre of political gravity now rests. It cannot be far-fetched to conclude that, was it not for the efforts of the First Lady, VP Mujuru & Co would still be in commanding positions of the party.
The fact that President Mugabe appears to be oblivious of the role of his wife as a gate keeper in ensuring that the undesirables were kept far away from the throne goes a long way towards confirming that he may after all be out of touch with the concrete and objective conditions in the party.