Grace Mugabe: The reincarnation of Madame Mao

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IN POLITICS, stupidity isn’t a handicap, Napoleon Bonaparte realised, centuries ago, the implication being that the crowded domain, in spite of its revered status in society, has room for morons who, despite their proven intellect, let alone acumen deficiency, prevail against all odds through sheer bravery, self-belief and unique parasitic shrewdness that capitalises on the personality cult of others, especially husbands, for personal gain. That being said, their downfall is just as spectacular as their rise, for, they thrive on a lie falsely peddled   as reality until they get exposed and subsequently   discarded into oblivion.
This analogy   reflects the lives of none other than that of Grace Mugabe and Jiang Qing, the latter affectionately referred to as Madame Mao, the third wife of the Chinese luminary, Mao Zedong. Indeed , so striking are the similarities between the two’s   lives that readers can easily infer the end game in Zanu PF’s succession matrix in which Grace takes centre stage, for history repeats itself but fools ignore its lessons .
Apart from their irresistible physical  beauty that caught Mao and Mugabe’s eyes ,  both Jiang and Grace were by far much younger than their husbands at marriage , with Grace  , 41 years Mugabe’s junior in 1996 when they tied the knot , and Jiang Qing , 21 years Mao’s junior .  By coincidence, both women happened to be secretaries to their future husbands, with Jiang Qing being Mao’s personal secretary in the 1940s and Grace in the 1990s.
Bizarrely, both marriages were not without controversy, with Mao and Jiang having an affair before the Chairman divorced his second wife Yang, a respected revolutionary. In the same way , Mugabe cheated with Grace  when  Sally , the incumbent’s first wife , a  highly respected revolutionary and philanthropist  was battling a chronic kidney ailment , an affair that got  blessed Mugabe with two children , Bona and Robert (jnr).
As if fate cursed the first two wives in the circus, Yang is executed in Changsha, China in 1930 while Sally succumbs to her kidney ailment in 1992. Tragedy  followed   the first two wives , as it  pursued  their offsprings , with Sally losing her only child Nhamodzenyika in 1966 while Mugabe was still  incarcerated by Ian Smith and Yang losing  her three children  in Mao’s absence  , the youngest , Anlong dying of dysentery in Shanghai at the age of four, the oldest, Anying , killed in the Korean war and the middle child , Anqing living to the age of 83 but having a mental problem before eventually succumbing to his ailment  in 2007.Advertisement

Paradoxically, in spite of their success in outwitting Yang and Sally respectively, Jiang and Grace struggle to be accepted by their respective societies as they suffer from credibility hurdles.  Chinese Communist party stalwarts objected to Mao’s marriage to Jiang for several reasons. Firstly, Jiang Qing was viewed as an outsider within party circles unlike Yang Kaihui, a renowned revolutionary. In addition, Jiang’s background, having been divorced twice before being married to Chairman Mao, did little to enhance her acceptability within the party    as she was seen by many, not only as an opportunistic wild woman, but a home wrecker as well. In fact, her mother’s reputation as a prostitute didn’t help her image in the eyes of many.
Likewise, in spite of Mugabe’s feeble attempts to make Grace acceptable to many Zimbabweans as mother of the nation, she struggles to be accommodated let alone taken seriously by the majority, for Jiang’s curse haunts her. Few have forgiven Grace for her betrayal of Sally, a woman who touched the hearts of many, for Mugabe’s affair with the former when the latter was on her deathbed is viewed as treachery of monumental magnitude. And, as if Sally’s ill -treatment wasn’t enough; Grace didn’t do herself any favour by colluding with Mugabe to force Stanley Goreraza, her first husband into exile in China.
In Sally, Zimbabweans saw a genuine mother of the nation – respectable, a revolutionary and philanthropist whose vision wasn’t driven by self-aggrandisement as is the case with Grace, but by the love of her adopted nation. It is Sally who founded the Child Survival Foundation, a charity dedicated to improving the welfare of disadvantaged children which today is almost forgotten. In contrast, in Grace many Zimbabweans see a loud-mouthed woman of shallow intellect, corrupted by a life of extravagance, an opportunist and heartless individual   who masquerades as a philanthropist to expand her business empire at the expense of the defenceless.  
It’s fascinating to grasp   how Jiang and Grace attempted to exploit their husbands’ reputations for personal gain but with devastating consequences, not only to themselves, but to the stability of their respective parties. Jiang’s gag by the Chinese Communist Party expired after 20 years before she got involved in mainstream politics with her appointment as deputy director of the Central Cultural Revolution Group in 1966, thereby claiming real power for the first time in Chinese politics.
In a typical reincarnation of the dead, Grace gets catapulted to the centre of the Zanu PF succession storm through her nomination as the Women’s League candidate for the December congress, a strategic manoeuvre that will ultimately enable her to sit in the politburo, and gain a ministerial post. The drama gets spiced by calls among fanatics for the First Lady to contest for the vice presidency post, a manoeuvre that has brought the party into disarray as the race to succeed Mugabe gets hot. In order to strengthen   her precarious  position just like Elena , the wife of Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania awarded a doctorate in industrial chemistry by her husband  , Grace  graduates with  a dodgy PhD  offered by  the University of Zimbabwe with the blessings of Mugabe , thus, moulding a presidential candidate.
How then can Jiang and Grace’s venture into active politics be explained?  Firstly, the two ambitious aspirants could have been used as pawns by their husbands to fend off enemies vying for   leadership within their respective parties. It is on record that Jiang’s rise and appointment in 1966 within the Chinese Communist Party coincided with the bitter power struggle that pitted   Chairman Mao and Deng Xiaoping.  Jiang’s appointment    could have been a strategic manoeuvre by Mao to use her as a shock absorber in his bruising tug of war against Deng. Mugabe could be employing the same strategy as vultures from the Mnangagwa and Mujuru factions’ angle for the kill. In this regard, instead of being villains, Grace and Jiang are indeed victims of forces beyond their control. Or , alternatively ,  could it be that the two women just  seized the  opportunity to nurture and further their own hidden  political ambitions  by taking advantage of their husbands’ old age  and frailty ?
At 90 years, Mugabe’s grip on power is on the decline just like Mao in the late 1960s as the latter   suffered from Parkinson’s disease, rendering them weaker and weaker not only physically but politically as well. In fact , at play could be that  the  two frail and aging incumbents  happened to be victims of  ambitious mistresses out of control , whose once hidden political egos  couldn’t  be concealed any longer , hence Jiang’s appointment in 1966 and Grace’s nomination to head the powerful Zanu PF Women’s League.
It is on record that towards the end of his reign, Mao’s relationship with Jiang became so frosty that the two had to meet by appointment as the Chairman lost trust in the First Lady. Jiang nearly achieved supreme power in 1976 while Chairman Mao lay on his deathbed as she couldn’t be patient to inherit the throne.  In the case of Grace, it remains to be seen how long she will remain loyal to the aging Mugabe. Potentially, instead of vultures from either the Mujuru or Mnangagwa factions executing the much feared coup, the culprit could be none other than the First Lady herself in broad daylight.  Or, could it be that Jiang and Grace became pawns in a game of chess being played by those kicking the ball in long grass?
As Mao lay on his deathbed, Jiang, after failing to wrestle power, had Zhang Chunqiao as her preferred candidate to become premier in spite of the fact that Chairman Mao had Hua Guofeng in mind as his successor. In the same way, Grace’s   political manoeuvres could be meant to empower the Mnangagwa faction to succeed Mugabe, thus, thwarting the Mujuru onslaught   with or without Mugabe’s blessings.  However, Mugabe might have his own choice in mind to succeed him but due to old age and failing health, the incumbent isn’t in control anymore, hence, the commotion rocking the party.
With Jiang’s appointment as director of the Central Cultural Revolution Group in 1966 , she exercised absolute power in China together with her Gang of Four , namely, Zhang Chuqiao , Wang Hangwen , Yao Wenyuan and Jiangqing . The notorious clique terrorised real and perceived enemies with the death toll estimated at 500,000 people from 1966-1969 and many people fled into exile including Deng Xiaoping, Mao’s arch-rival. The Red Guards created by Mao in 1966 terrorised real and perceived enemies, a Jiang becoming the law onto herself. As one observer described her appearance on party posters, “She (Jiang) , appeared austere and very masculine … Depicted alongside men, an undiscerning eye wouldn’t be able to single her out as she wore her hair short, further hidden under a cap to look much like the Chairman”.
And, as if Grace is a typical reincarnation of Madame Mao, her elevation to the helm of the Women’s League, the conferment of a dodgy PhD as well as the blessings from both traditional chiefs and spirit mediumshas created a larger than life character. As reported at one of her rallies, the First Lady threatened those perceived to be involved in factionalism, fuming that those who ignore her warnings would be ‘’playing with fire’’ adding that ‘’My time has come to show people what I am made of’’ and that she might have a ‘’small fist,’’ but when it comes to fighting, “I will put stones inside it to enlarge it, or even put on gloves to make it bigger”. In fact, little does Grace realise let alone infer that Mugabe is the pond in which she thrives and that in his absence, she is vulnerable.
But does the First Lady believe in Mnangagwa’s sarcasm when he bestows in her the honour of a ‘’Queen’’? Who is the godfather of the Tsholotsho debacle? Like Jiang Qing, Zhang and Wang who became members of the politburo in 1966, thereby effectively throwing the Chinese Communist Party into turmoil, Grace’s entrance into active politics will tear Zanu PF apart and, as usual, a purge of real and perceived enemies will follow using the state security machinery as well as party militias who thronged the first Family’s Mazoe Farm. As usual, the Border Gezi militias, the equivalent of Mao’s Red Guards will be deployed across the country to target opponents. Many innocent souls will be victimised with others fleeing into exile.
Again, and as was the case in Mao’s China, the climax of the drama will be Mugabe’s death.  Many within the Chinese Communist Party couldn’t wait for Chairman Mao’s death and their dream was fulfilled on the 9th of September 1976 when the strongman finally succumbed to Parkinson’s disease. In fact, Madame Mao got exposed and desperately, attempted to seize power unsuccessfully before Guofeng, Mao’s preferred choice got anointed but only to be pushed aside in two years time by Deng Xiaoping, the Chairman’s arch-rival previously persecuted by Jiang. In a dramatic reversal of fortunes , Madame Mao got arrested by political rivals barely a month after the Chairman’s death and sentenced to death but only to be reduced to a life sentence before allegedly committing suicide in 1991 while still incarcerated.
Indeed, Grace is well aware of this predicament as she infers, ‘’Pane vanhu vari kuda kundizvuzvurudza mutara (There are people who want to drag me against tarred road) when the President goes’’.  It’s undeniable that at 90 years of age, Mugabe’s days are numbered, but for the First Lady, that realisation, let alone acknowledgement, isn’t enough as she can’t afford to repeat Jiang’s blunder of persecuting those who will later preside over her judgement. Vying for Mugabe’s post today or in the post-Mugabe era isn’t the best option for Grace as vultures from both factions and even those referring to her to as “queen” will skin the woman alive.
At the same time, backing one faction against the other is too brave a gamble for the First Lady as evidenced by what happened to Jiang who backed Moa, only to switch allegiance   to Zhang Chunqiao against Deng Xiaoping only for the latter to inherit the throne and preside over her judgement. Grace might have calculated that Mnangagwa will safeguard her interests in the post-Mugabe era, hence her backing of the crocodile, but the drama is far from over, considering the fact that the latter appears to lack grassroots support within the party vis-à-vis the Mujuru faction.
In addition, does Grace fully understand the level of support the First Family has, not only in the security sector, but also in the politburo, for these two institutions will have the final say over Mugabe’s successor in the event that the incumbent dies in office. Are those who smile at the incumbent at every available opportunity real friends or as was the case with Chairman Mao, or are they only waiting for his death before launching the final assault?
The longer the succession drama drags on unresolved, the more likely that Mugabe loses control over it and the higher the chances that it is the politburo that will have the final say. Grace is advised to tread with maximum caution for she can’t afford to persecute those who will ultimately decide her fate in the post-Mugabe era as was the case with Jiang and Deng Xiaoping. In Shona, they say, Akuruma nzeve ndewako, implying that he who gives you advice is a friend indeed. Only fools ignore wisdom.
William Muchayi is a pro-democracy and political analyst who can be contacted on