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

African Independent - - NEWS - BREZHNEV MALABA

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.

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