IF you feel Grace Mugabe is a nuisance we don’t need, turn around and get a life. She is just what we have been waiting for to get to Canaan. The opposition is in tatters and clueless. President Robert Mugabe’s “wives”, as Margaret Dongo described his out-of-sorts male lieutenants decades ago, are falling on the wayside without as much as raising a tail. And in comes Grace. A curse that will bless us.
Barring the rare miracle, Grace is set to be elevated to the Zanu PF vice presidency at the ruling party’s congress, sometime next month. She will replace Emmerson Mnangagwa who, after being fired from government by his boss of more than 40 years on Monday for disloyalty and “lack of probity”, will also lose the party deputy presidency. That way, Grace will likely take Mnangagwa’s position in government too and join her husband in the presidium.
To many people, the Grace brand is a bad brand. She is a joke. A crude joke that they are increasingly having to live with. She talks too much, and most of what she says is childish, uncouth, tactless and un-measured. She beats up young girls with electric cords and is accused of grabbing farms, driving out poor villagers. I am told many of the so-called Mapostori who attended her Super Sunday rally a couple of days ago were raided as they were about to don their robs for the day’s service and spent the whole day hungry at Rufaro Stadium.
It is, in fact, the badness of her brand that makes her good and useful. Her elevation will bring closer to the end, Mugabe’s long, arduous and painful rule, destroy what remains of Zanu PF and present a chance for a new political order. This makes sense if you appreciate that authoritarian establishments always follow a tragi-comic cycle. They start off on a promising note, with the future dictators as darlings of the people.
From Hitler to Pol Pot. From Ferdinand Marcos to Haile Mengistu Mariam. From Charles Taylor to Muammar Gaddafi. But they get so drunk with their popularity they turn themselves into demi-gods. They start making mistakes—small at the beginning and bigger the longer they stay in power—that finally bring them down.
Compare Robert Mugabe (1980-2018) and Ferdinand Marcos (1965-1986). They were great guys when they started. They were people’s saviours. They represented hope, brilliance and popular values. But, with time, they started ruling with an iron fist and became dictators. I have heard people who try to be smart and argue that the Zimbabwean president is not a dictator, but that’s what he is.Advertisement
In fact, some of the people who have attempted to argue that President Mugabe is a democratic ruler are the loudest proponents of the “one centre of power” concept. It is clinically contradictory to recognize a ruler as a sole centre of power and then want to qualify him as democratic at the same time. Almost everything about Zimbabwean national and party governance revolves around the sole whim of Mugabe.
He is the president, commander in chief of the defence forces, head of government, chancellor of State universities, appointer (and disappointer) of all key positions, first secretary, president, head of the Zanu PF politburo and all that you can imagine relating to power. When he wants things done his way, he uses the façade of the law, constitution and popular participation, but that does not remove the fact that he is a dictator. That is why, when Mnangagwa’s perceived supporters booed Grace in Bulawayo recently, Mugabe found it easy to fire his deputy two days later. In a democracy, Mnangagwa must have been subjected to open and systematic procedures before being fired.
Back to the Mugabe-Marcos comparison. As their grip on power became tighter, they and their families became synonymous with corruption, reportedly amassing personal fortunes and regularly getting accused of abusing their power to create personal wealth. They took a firm hold on the military, were seen rigging elections and presided over increasingly worsening economic crises. They would not let go of power and, for Marcos, growing discontent among the people led to his ouster in the Philippines.
But there is another ominous similarity. Marcos faced mutiny from his army and the security sector as frustration grew. In Zimbabwe, there are tell-tale signs of the same. To the extent that Grace, whenever she stands up to speak, cannot avoid moaning that the military wants to kill her. The generals have in the past passed loaded statements that betray their anger and impatience with Mugabe’s rule, particularly where corruption is concerned.
The most valuable instance in this comparison is the role of the respective wives in their husbands’ authoritarian rule and their appetite for power and glitz. As Imelda Marcos became infamous for owning thousands of handbags and pairs of shoes, Grace has been grabbing the headlines for multi-million finger rings and reports of insane accumulation of real property outside the country, in addition to shady transfers of mega-bucks to safe offshore accounts.
But that is nothing compared to the influence both women have had on how the State is run. With time, Imelda became so powerful that she was the de facto vice president of the Philippines, leaving Ferdinand at home to conduct foreign business on his behalf. Imelda called the shots on who must be in government or politics or out of it. For instance, she was instrumental in the 1980 exiling of opposition leader, Benigno Aquino Jnr. She virtually became president when Ferdinand started suffering from lupus.
Christopher Mutsvangwa was fired from his position as cabinet minister and, subsequently, the party, for accusing Grace of, like Imelda, conflating the bedroom and the State. He was echoing a popular sentiment that Mugabe’s wife was meddling in government processes, systems and functions because of her personal proximity to her husband. That is crucial in understanding how Grace will finally, through her elevation to the vice presidency, first destroy her husband and disrupt government business before presenting an opportunity for Zimbabwe’s democratisation.
The first and most significant victim of Grace’s ascendancy to the vice presidency will, ironically, be Mugabe. This is primarily because of Grace’s disposition. She is a loose cannon, is overbearing on her husband and has done just too little to conceal that. You will remember the 2014 congress when Mugabe got so incensed with her trying to cut short his speech that he confessed that was the same way he was treated even at home. “Ndizvo zvandinoitwa kana kumba izvozvo!” was his loud complaint, and his irritation was evident when he inadvertently shouted down his own party in a slogan shortly after.
Her elevation will embolden Grace and strengthen her arrogance towards her husband. She will get more confidence to meddle in State affairs because she would be in the presidium after all. We have heard stories of Grace grabbing sensitive communication from her husband to read when she was a mere leader of a party organ, the women’s league, or even prior to that. With more power that comes with the vice presidency, she will do worse.
In fact, chances are high that she will relegate Mugabe to a passive onlooker as she becomes the de facto president, just as Imelda Marcos did. Before we know it, Grace will be appointing and firing cabinet ministers, judges and all manner of senior government officials. This will bring with it a lot of undesirable ramifications, of course. She will drive Mugabe mad and sick. She will stress him with her meddling because, despite his old age and miscalculations, he still carries a two-tonne ego and wouldn’t want his wife to be running his personal project—government—for him. That way, Grace will quicken Mugabe’s ageing and drive him to his grave.
But more will come. Because of her tactlessness and lack of political experience, Grace will fail to balance her acts, particularly where reshuffling of government appointments and systems is concerned, with dire results. There will be so much disgruntlement and confusion in government that things will just fall apart. By the time we get to elections, there will be very little of government to talk about. That anarchy, needless to say, might prove crucial for the transformation of the country.
It can readily provide an opportunity for the opposition and expelled members of Zanu PF to regroup and come up with strategies that will lead to Mugabe’s exit, through natural or man-made means, and her own. Whatever rigging system Zanu PF might be installing at the moment is likely to be disrupted by her decisions and actions. The problem is, it can easily lead to civil unrest. But then what unrest has Zimbabwe not known since independence? In a sense, chaos is sometimes good for renewal.
Grace’s new power will also kill the little that is left of the real Zanu PF. She will, naturally, leave the women’s league because of her new position. But she has tasted the power in that wing and, Grace being Grace, will want to keep running the structure as if nothing has changed. That will cause more confusion, despair and disgruntlement in both the women’s league and the ruling party. Party supporters will certainly come to a stage where they will realise that they made a mistake by cheering her on to her new position. Whether this happens before or after the elections doesn’t matter, but people will leave, re-factionalise and start forming a buffer against her.
Is she going to get advisers as good as the ones that currently serve her husband in order to avert the looming leadership disaster? Even if she were to be given a whole college of advisers, that is unlikely to forestall the looming crisis. To start with, her advisors would have to align their advice to the reality that the actual president is Mugabe. But since she has rebellious tendencies and would want to leapfrog her husband, she is set to reject the advice given to her.
That brings in another highly likely scenario. Sooner or later, there will be acrimony between Grace and her current Generation 40 allies. That applies particularly to Jonathan Moyo. Grace Mugabe likes grown and powerful men who take notes from her, just like Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko were doing even when she was nothing but Mugabe’s wife only. But I know Jonathan Moyo. He has a big ego too and scant regard for low intellects. That means he won’t sit around taking notes from Grace. It’s a matter of time before we start hearing his own accounts, probably on Twitter, of how Grace rigged her way to a doctoral degree.
Grace holds enough dynamite to blow up her husband, Zanu PF, government systems and processes and herself. That, of course, will bring mayhem and anarchy but provide Zimbabwe with the opportunity to start afresh. She is set to complete the dictatorship cycle for us and leave us with better options.