HARARE - Even before First Lady Grace Mugabe (pictured) has formally assumed the leadership of the Women’s League for which she has been nominated, there are growing fears within the upper echelons of Zanu PF that she will further deepen divisions within the faction-ridden party and “prove to be an unmitigated disaster”.
Senior party leaders who spoke to the Daily News yesterday described President Robert Mugabe’s wife as a “an ambitious but divisive character” who would “subtract more than she will add” anything to Zanu PF.
“The people who have manipulated the political process for their selfish interests by nominating the First Lady to chair the Women’s League know that they are virtually setting the party up to fail because with all due respect to her, she will subtract more than she will add to efforts to build and strengthen the party,” the Central Committee member said.
“Everyone in the party knows that she is an ambitious but fairly divisive character who will sadly erode the president’s hard-won standing and legacy not just in Zanu PF and Zimbabwe, but around the world.”
Another party official claimed that the First Lady would give Zanu PF’s enemies “deadly ammunition”, particularly in the run-up to the 2018 national elections. Like others spoken to, he declined to be named fearing victimisation.
“She has two known weaknesses that will give our enemies in the opposition deadly ammunition as we put the building blocks towards 2018,” the senior official said.
“Her penchant for assets and the good life is legendary and this is what has seen her mired in many embarrassing land grabs such as those in Mazowe.
“Very soon, people inside and outside Zanu PF will start asking open questions about how much land, for example, the First Lady needs to be satisfied that she now has enough. This is all very damaging for the president in particular who is known to be very disciplined and principled.
“To worsen matters, the First Lady is known for being emotional and reckless with words inside the party, which has led some people to view her as an unguided missile. These are the reasons why those who have nominated her have done so, even if it may exacerbate infighting in the party and eventually destroy Zanu PF like we saw in 2008 when we suffered from Bhora Musango.”
The concerns around the First Lady come as she was caught in yet another embarrassing faux pas on Thursday when she launched a scathing and unexpected attack on Mazowe South legislator Fortune Chasi, whom she accused of terrorising her in Mazowe where she owns a number of farms and runs her Amai Grace Mugabe Children’s Home.
In a move described by one analyst as “an embarrassing own goal” for her and Mugabe, she brazenly accused Chasi of spreading falsehoods about her and her controversial land grabs, ostensibly in a quest to tarnish the name of the First Family.
She made these allegations while addressing hundreds of youths who were gathered at her children’s home to endorse the Women’s League resolution to install her as the leader of the organ.
“Zvazvakaita ndakaita apply pane conservancy iri kuseri uko which was being run by the whites,” she said. “Ndikangoona yakagara, then I applied to use it to raise mari yekuchengeta vana pano apa ndobva ndapiwa tsamba inini. Saka vanhu vakangozvigarisa vaichera chera imomo vakanzi vabude, iye (Chasi) akati ‘muri kuvaburitsirei? Mugabe nemukadzi wake vari kuda kutora land yese.’
“Akaenda kucourt nevanhu vaye kuti kana hazvimboite. Iye akapiwa farm naVa(Martin) Dinha akariramba. Akatengwa nemurungu akapiwa mari akati handiride. (I applied for a conservancy in this area which was being run by whites. I had seen it lying idle and I applied to use it to raise money to look after children at the Mazowe Children’s Home and I was given an offer letter by authorities. The people who were squatting on that conservancy were then ordered off the property, but Chasi queried why these people were being kicked off the land. He alleged that Mugabe and his wife wanted to take all the land. Chasi went to court with these squatters to resist the takeover of the conservancy. But he was given land by Martin Dinha and he refused because he had been given money by the white owner),” she said.
In further bizarre remarks, the First Lady told the same gathering that Chasi had also made false allegations that she had engineered the eviction of a famous traditional healer who was staying at Henderson Farm in Mazowe, when the healer had been expelled by the Mashonaland Central leadership.
She went on to accuse the traditional healer of engaging in illegal gold panning at the farm.
She said she had running battles in Mazowe with people who accused her of grabbing land, including a farm belonging to Interfresh, adding that it was the Mashonaland Central leadership that had allocated her a portion of Interfresh Farm that was lying idle.
“But mukati medu futi vamwe votuma vanhu kuti endai munoshungurudza mukadzi waMugabe abve ikoko. Kwakauya mayouths 300 ndobva vakutanga kungochera mazikomba anenge anokwana musha uno. Two weeks later, vakauya vave 1 000. (There are some among us who send people to come and harass me so that I can leave this Mazowe area. About 300 youths came and started digging big holes. Two weeks later the number had increased to 1000),” she said.
The Mazowe function was attended by many Zanu-PF bigwigs, including Nicholas Goche, Saviour Kasukuwere, Ednah Madzongwe, Edson Chakanyuka and Patrick Zhuwawo.
Piers Pigou, southern African director of the International Crisis Group, said the question is whether Grace has any political cachet in her own right, without riding the coat tails of her husband.
“It seems to me unlikely, as she would have stepped up to the plate before hand,” Pigou said. “Her late entry onto the political scene will inevitably be interpreted with some cynicism. Her value as a political asset for Zanu PF beyond tokenistic praise-singing will soon be evident, or not, as the case may be.
“One also has to ask what value the women’s league really brings to the Zimbabwean political scene. Of course, notwithstanding issues around gender representation etc, but what value does the league have and what qualities does the First Lady bring? It is not immediately obvious.”
Political commentator Maxwell Saungweme said: “Grace’s reckless statements like calling for beheading of rapists, going public about Bona’s virginity before her wedding, controversially grading land even from Zanu PF supporters, and now attacking a deputy minister appointed by her husband show how politically unbaked she is, making it difficult for some hard-core Zanu PF big-wigs with war credentials to respect her.”
“The way she has attempted to enter politics by attacking some of her husband’s flock may prove to be costly to her and may actually be the beginning of the end of her attempted short career in active politics.”
He said if she was shrewd, she should be lying low and leaving officials such as Oppah Muchinguri and Absolom Sikhosana to do the lobbying and noise-making for her as she needs everyone in Zanu PF to her side if she is really going to make it.
“It remains a mirage to think that she can outmanoeuvre seasoned female politicians like Mai Mujuru,” he said.
Commentator Shepard Mntungwa said the utterances by the First Lady against Chasi amounted to an “embarrassing own goal”.
“Somebody high up the party needs to quickly get hold of her and tell her to shut up for her sake and her husband’s, as what she is reported to have said amounts to an embarrassing own goal that shows her up as seemingly corrupt and drunk with power,” Mntungwa said.
“In addition, she is wittingly or unwittingly cementing the perception of deeply entrenched serious factionalism in Zanu PF by so recklessly bad mouthing a sitting MP and deputy minister this openly.
“Many party supporters will be entitled to think that if she doesn’t have the good sense, dignity and grace -- no pun intended -- of dealing with internal party differences in a more sober and mature manner, why should they behave any better,” he said.