HARARE - A relaxed Didymus Mutasa yesterday added fuel to the fire raging within President Robert Mugabe’s warring Zanu PF, stating matter-of-factly that quarrelsome First Lady Grace Mugabe was now indisputably in charge of the ruling party and not her ailing nonagenarian husband.
Mutasa, for long a close confidante of Mugabe and a former Presidential Affairs minister in charge of the country’s spooks, said Grace was now unequivocally the “centre of power” in the ruling party.
His insider comments followed his expected “expulsion” from the party on Wednesday, together with his voluble nephew Temba Mliswa — as the former liberation movement continues with its brutal purges of all senior officials perceived to be sympathetic to ousted former vice president Joice Mujuru.
“Yes. I expected it (his purported expulsion). They said so a long time ago.
“They were waiting for the First Lady. Now she is back and they have shown where the centre of their power is.
“However, they did not specify which Zanu PF they expelled me from, the real one which puts people first, or the unlawful one to which they belong to.
“To remove all doubt, it must be stated that I remain a member of the original lawful Zanu PF. I never belonged to the illegal Zanu PF which does not care about people. It cares about its leaders only,” the seemingly unflappable Mutasa said.
Mutasa added: “They are guided by emotion and not by rationale and the constitution of the party and that of the country. They have made us a lawless people. What a shame.”
Newly-installed Zanu PF spokesperson, Simon Khaya Moyo — a target of the deadly fight from party hardliners himself — told journalists on Wednesday, following a politburo meeting in Harare that Mutasa and Mliswa had been expelled for behaviour that was allegedly contrary to the expectations of the ruling party.
“On Cde Didymus Mutasa, a detailed report by the national disciplinary committee was submitted to the politburo highlighting, of course, the disparaging reports said by Mutasa on party leadership and his rubbishing of the congress as illegal, null and void,” Moyo said.
Turning to Mliswa, Moyo said the former Mashonaland West chairperson was fired for disrespecting the national leadership and interrupting meetings in his province.
Confusion still abounds as to when Zanu PF’s disciplinary committee met to reach its decisions on Mutasa and Mliswa, amid conflicting reports from lickspittle State media — raising suspicion that the decision may have been arrived at long before Grace returned from her controversial two-month sojourn in the Far East.
Mutasa’s pointed comments regarding Grace’s undue influence in Zanu PF came as social media speculation around the issue went gaga yesterday, amid snide comments to the effect that Mugabe had allegedly accompanied Grace to Wednesday’s politburo meeting.
The frenetic online debates came after lickspittle State media showed images of Grace surprisingly sitting next to Mugabe in the politburo meeting, and not second vice president Phelekezela Mphoko, as would normally be demanded by protocol.
Mutasa’s comments also follow those made by former war veterans leader Jabulani Sibanda late last year, who was quoted saying, “I am not going to allow any coup both in the boardroom and in the bedroom” at the height of the Grace-fronted anarchy that is still devouring Zanu PF.
So biting and resonant with ordinary Zimbabweans was that quote that it ultimately contributed to authorities dragging the popular war veteran to court where he is facing charges of insulting or undermining Mugabe’s authority.
Grace also demonstrated the immense power she now wields within Zimbabwe’s body politic when Cabinet ministers, service chiefs and Zanu PF bigwigs scrambled to Harare International Airport to welcome her back to the country last week after she had been away in the Far East for more than two months.
Observers said the fact that these bigwigs had felt compelled to converge at the airport together with hundreds of ruling party supporters to welcome her back to Zimbabwe in the manner they did spoke volumes about how much political power she now wielded in the country.
Mugabe himself admitted during the ruling party’s damp squib “elective” congress that was held in Harare late last year that Grace now often directed him what to do.
There was so much pomp and ceremony as she arrived back in the country on the day that one senior Zanu PF official who spoke to the Daily News described her welcome as “fitting for a Queen”.
“She (Grace) is now probably the most powerful politician in Zimbabwe, which is why her welcome back to the country today almost rivalled the treatment that the president gets when he returns from his trips abroad.
“To not go and pay homage to Amai at the moment amounts to virtual political suicide and everyone knows this. Her welcome was fitting for a Queen,” the central committee member, who requested anonymity, said.
Among the bigwigs at the airport were Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi, Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, politburo member Shuvai Mahofa and fast-rising youth league boss Pupurai Togarepi.
Speaking at the airport welcome party, Togarepi wasted no time in reminding the gathered Zanu PF bigwigs that it was in fact “Comrade Stop It”, as Grace is now popularly known in party circles, who was in control.
He bluntly told them that the honeymoon was over for those who had taken advantage of her absence to misbehave and frustrate the ruling party’s youths.
“We are happy as the youth league that mother (Grace) you are back. We were being persecuted when you were away. When a mother is not there, others take advantage and push you, but this is our time to report them to you,” he said to loud applause.
Not to be outdone, the rotund Mahofa described Grace as God-sent.
The grand welcome flew in the face of recent comments by Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba that Grace was allegedly a private citizen whose prolonged absence from Zimbabwe should not have been an issue for anybody.
While Grace is bootlicked, sometimes embarrassingly by Zanu PF bigwigs — particularly since she fronted the stunning decimation of Mujuru and her perceived allies — the First Lady has struggled to find favour with ordinary Zimbabweans.
Many of her critics derisively refer to her as “Gucci Grace” or “First Shopper” or lately “Hurricane Grace” or “Calamity Grace”.
A significant number of Zanu PF bigwigs also suspect that her dramatic entry into formal politics last year was a first step in her ultimate ambition to grab the leadership of both the ruling party and the country after Mugabe’s time.
After her “surprise” nomination as head of Zanu PF’s women’s league in August 2014, Grace accused Mujuru, the popular widow of the late liberation icon Solomon Mujuru, of untested allegations of corruption and plotting to topple and assassinate Mugabe.