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The dramatic rise and fall of Grace Mugabe

24 Nov 2017 at 05:09hrs | Views
On July 25, 2014, two days after her 49th birthday, then First Lady Grace Mugabe was unanimously recommended by the Zanu-PF Women's League to take up the post of its secretary.

Some 3 000 women from the country's 10 provinces gathered at her children's home in Mazowe and endorsed her as their candidate who was to be appointed at the party Congress in December that year.

Zanu-PF Politburo member and President of the Senate Edna Madzongwe brought forward the motion. "We are gathered here to ask Amai to lead the women," she said. The then Women's League secretary, Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, seconded the motion. "You have been dodging us and the party is getting lost," she said. "Come out to the provinces and hear from the women how they are being treated," she implored.

The nomination was not without precedent. Former President Robert Mugabe's first wife, the late Sally Mugabe, had held the deputy secretary's post from 1978 and was elevated to the position of secretary in 1989.

At the time she was approached, Mrs Grace Mugabe acted coy, not showing herself to be overly ambitious. She thanked the women and said she felt honoured. She feigned humility and referred to herself as a nanny whose only job was looking after orphaned children. She added that it was not her choice to lead but one to be made by the appointing authority who happened to be her husband.

This event would kick off the political career of Grace Mugabe which would have a seismic effect on the fate of the Mugabes, Zanu-PF and the nation of Zimbabwe. When the last days of Mugabe's political life are recalled, the role that Grace Mugabe played in his departure shall loom large.

No one knew what to expect of Amai Mugabe's entry into the political fray. Since her marriage to Mugabe in 1996 she had remained only his companion, raising their children and focused on her philanthropic work at the orphanage, as patron of Danhiko Project and other organisations and charities.

She was also the centre of controversy on occasion, with some labelling her "Gucci Grace" for her alleged expensive tastes and insatiable appetite for shopping in some of the world's most expensive stores. She, however, denied such accusations, at some point suing newspapers for defamation and stating she only purchased almond nuts from Harrod's in an interview with Dali Tambo in 2013.

Following the call from the Women's League at her Mazowe establishment, Grace Mugabe embarked on whirlwind "Meet the People" tours of various provinces, thanking the women for endorsing her as Women's League secretary.

There were reports factionalism within Zanu-PF that were creating divisions. The party was headed for an elective Congress. People were calling for leadership renewal in the party. It was suggested by some in the party that with Amai Mugabe at the helm of the Women's League, she would be a force for unity and the issue of factionalism would die.

In dealing with the alleged factionalism, Grace Mugabe went on the offensive. Dressed in party regalia, colourful printed fabric with the face of her husband, she attacked party members suspected of supporting the then Vice President Joice Mujuru.

She accused them of vote buying and stated they should stop their activities immediately or suffer the consequences of their disloyalty. "Stop it!" became her catchphrase and was iterated at each rally along the tour.

Not only would she denounce factionalism but she would humiliate those accused of promoting it. Former Mashonaland East provincial chairperson Ray Kaukonde found himself in her crosshairs at a rally in Marondera for reportedly supporting Mu- juru.

"I nearly punched him," she exclaimed to the crowd. "Your moment of reckoning is coming," she warned him.

The barrage of threats and the bombardment of insults was also directed at Mujuru herself. She threatened to baby-dump the then Vice President if her husband did not act fast enough. By the December 2014 Congress, Mujuru and her allies had been ousted and Amai Mugabe found herself a Politburo member as Women's League secretary.

Her style of politics was different. When she got up to speak many learnt to expect a spectacle and rarely did she disappoint. It was, however, not an exhibition to be celebrated but one akin to a circus, where behind closed doors people questioned her sanity. She would unexpectedly erupt into outbursts against everyone she suspected to be her enemy or to pause a threat to her husband's position.

Her speeches were often off the cuff. Her language was far from diplomatic. It was crude, insulting and sent many a man cringing. At one rally she told the gathering that the two Vice Presidents took notes from her.

For a while, following the departure of Mujuru, Amai Mugabe calmed down. But over the last two years, with the issue of succession gaining momentum in Zanu-PF, factionalism found new roots and her sights turned to VP Emmerson Mnangagwa who had replaced Mujuru.

This time Amai Mugabe was said to have a faction of her own going by the moniker Generation 40 (G40). She had teamed up with Professor Jonathan Moyo, Saviour Kasukuwere and Patrick Zhuwao to push their own succession agenda, all the time brandishing President Mugabe's name.

Rumours began swirling later that Amai Mugabe was, in fact, not defending her husband; she wanted to succeed him herself, hence her entry into politics at the 2014 Congress.

"Why would I want to succeed him?" she said at first. "I already have power because my husband in the President," she proclaimed.

In a similar fashion to Mujuru, Amai Mugabe later started attacking those accused of being aligned to Mnangagwa and his alleged named Lacoste. Those targeted were either subjected to kangaroo-type disciplinary action from the party or summary expulsion through choreographed votes of no con- fidence.

When her G40 allies were targeted she came to their defence. Professor Moyo was alleged to have misappropriated Zimdef funds. The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission sought to arrest him and have him answer for his reported crimes. Amai Mugabe would hear none of that. During Presidential Youth Interface Rallies she exonerated him and said that it was the Lacoste faction pushing an agenda against Prof Moyo.

When there were calls and demonstrations from the party's provinces for Saviour Kasukuwere to be sacked as Zanu-PF Political Commissar on allegations that he was imposing candidates in the provinces and causing divisions in the party, Mai Mugabe leapt to his defence. "Kasukuwere is going nowhere," she exclaimed. "He was appointed by my husband and you will not remove him," she said.

Over the last few months, Grace Mugabe seemed invincible and unstoppable in her bid for the position of one of the two Vice Presidents. The G40 faction was emboldened and there were now open calls for there to be a woman in the Vice Presidency once again. Since then Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko was in her corner, it was evident she wanted Vice President Mnangagwa out.

The Youth League led by Kudzai Chipanga immediately endorsed her as their candidate. Her onslaught against Mnangagwa escalated. At the 9th interface rally in Bulawayo Amai Mugabe was booed by the gathering while Mnangagwa got a standing ovation for his stoical silence in the face of relentless attacks by the G40 faction.

When former President Mugabe took to the podium, he was livid, not against party supporters who had booed Amai Mugabe but Mnangagwa for causing his wife's embarrassment. He questioned whether he had done wrong by appointing Mnangagwa to the VP post and threatened to fire him.

In her last public appearance on Sunday November 5, Grace Mugabe attacked Mnangagwa in front of a gathering of apostolic sect members. She accused him of being too comfortable and claimed he had been plotting against her husband for a long time. She also attacked the army, claiming they too were disloyal and that they could do nothing to her.

The events of the last two weeks leading to the resignation of Robert Mugabe are well known and documented. The utterances and actions of Amai Mugabe in part precipitated the inglorious exit from power of the then First Family.

What she managed to achieve through her numerous tirades over the past few years was to worsen divisions in Zanu-PF. The G40 faction sought to isolate Mugabe from some of his closest allies whose relationships spanned over 50 years, Mnangagwa in particular who had served as Mugabe's personal assistant and bodyguard on occasions. She played judge, juror and executioner, going above the law, defending those accused of crimes and preventing due process.

Few dared challenge her out of respect for the President.

People have drawn scornful comparisons between Grace Mugabe to Jiang Qing, wife of Mao Zedong and the Gang of Four in China. Another comparison can be made to Elena Ceausceau of Romania who was also known as "Mother of the Nation". During the reigns of their husbands, these women wielded enormous borrowed political power and influenced the fate of their states. Unlike Grace Mugabe, however, their fates would end in fatality.

One can only speculate how the legacy of Robert Mugabe might have ended had his wife not exhibited and indulged her political ambitions in such a crude fashion. There were certainly multiple actors who played a role in his inglorious exit from political life, but Grace Mugabe delivered the coup de grace.

Source - the herald
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