Zimbabwe’s true state of Grace
Is Grace Mugabe running Zimbabwe? Some experts think so, given how influential she is in her husband’s dealings and the people she allows close to him
violent election campaigns and enforce a reign of terror in rural areas, where 67 percent of the population stays.
“We are not afraid of being arrested. If we are arrested we will stay in prison until that time when they feel we should be freed,” says a defiant Matemadanda.
Grace, who rose to the influential position of secretary of the Women’s League in the governing Zanu-PF in 2014, has hogged the limelight for her political statements in the last two years. Loyalists call her “Amai” (Mother) and “Dr” (although critics say her super-speedy doctorate, awarded by the state-run University of Zimbabwe in 2014, is bogus). She is accused of leading a lavish lifestyle in a country where 72 percent of the people languish in extreme poverty. Last year, she was caught up in a legal dispute after she paid $1.4 million for a diamond ring.
During her big rallies, cabinet ministers kneel sheepishly like schoolboys when greeting her. Zimbabwe’s much-feared military commanders have been lambasted in public by Mugabe’s wife. Recently, she triggered an uproar after grabbing land and a dam from small-scale indigenous farmers.
But is she really running Zimbabwe? Is Mugabe so frail that his wife is now effectively in control of the republic?
Zanu-PF insiders told African Independent that although executive power is vested in the president in line with the constitution, Grace wields immense power and influence.
In November last year, she told the governing Zanu-PF Women’s League that she was not interested in lowly posts because she was already president of the country as she “plans and does everything with President Robert Mugabe”. Her controversial assertion appeared to confirm a long-held suspicion that she was taking advantage of her husband’s old age to manipulate the levers of power.
While addressing a ZanuPF congress in December 2014, Mugabe received a hand-written note. What happened next shocked the delegates. He revealed the note was from his wife, who was ordering him to cut short his speech. “My wife has written a note; she says I’m talking too much. That’s how I’m treated even at home, so I must listen,” said Mugabe.
At political rallies, Grace has vowed to mobilise ZanuPF members to protest against Mugabe if he dared parcel out top posts to people she disapproved of.
In 2015, Grace publicly revealed that Vice-Presidents Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko took instructions from her.
That same year, Grace told a political rally in Mashonaland West province that nobody in Zanu-PF, including Mugabe, can stop her from doing whatever she wants.
Eldred Masunungure, a professor of political science at the University of Zimbabwe, says there is no doubt that Grace Mugabe wields a lot of power and influence. “The scary part is what will happen when she gets formal power when now, without it, she speaks in a way that suggests she is the de facto president, powerful and influential.”
Last week, Grace showed her political clout when the government approved the establishment of the Robert Gabriel Mugabe University. The government, already saddled with an $11 billion debt, will have to provide $800m for construction and $200m for an endowment grant for research and innovation. The trustees of the “science and technology-focused university” are Mugabe and Grace.
Political commentator Ken Yamamoto says the funding of such a university through taxpayers’ funds would be “the most brazen and audacious heist and public transfer of public wealth into private hands”. The $1bn is equivalent to a quarter of Zimbabwe’s $4.1bn total annual budget for 2017.
“Mugabe is certainly not in full control of political currents. The fact that the proposed university is owned by Mugabe’s family means that money will leak from the project like a sieve,” says Yamamoto.