HARARE – First Lady Grace Mugabe waded into the succession debate yesterday, imploring her ageing husband, President Robert Mugabe, to anoint a successor now so as to narrow the widening rifts in the ruling Zanu PF.
Over the years, the question of who should succeed Mugabe has caused rifts in Zanu PF between two factions namely Generation 40 and Team Lacoste camps.
Although the two camps have been fighting publicly, none has dared Mugabe in his face to name a successor.
While addressing Zanu PF’s women league national assembly members at the party’s headquarters in Harare yesterday, Grace took the unprecedented step of nudging her reluctant husband to name a successor.
The powerful first lady reasoned it was the trend in other countries for their leaders to handpick their heir apparent, saying that act alone would enable Zanu PF’s warring supporters to rally behind one candidate.
She insinuated that there was need to foil plans by a faction within Zanu PF that was about to enthrone its preferred candidate without Mugabe’s anointing.
Grace said the president had the right to be involved in naming his successor, saying the incumbent’s word was final.
“There is no succession without Mugabe and I have told him that you have a role to play even if I know that he has said that the people will decide but his word will be final, mark my word,” Grace said, as the women’s league administration secretary, Letina Undenge broke into song “uri musoja usatye (don’t be afraid, you are a soldier).
“I am asking him now in front of you and don’t be afraid, tiudzei bhiza ramuri kuda timhanye naro muone henyu (we will rally behind your anointed horse). We will stand up and support that candidate and those whose names that have been thrown around under the cover of darkness are not the candidates. Listen to me when I speak”.
Grace also claimed that some in the ruling party were being influenced by an unnamed woman based in South Africa into dumping Mugabe.
“She says she has money that can translate into power and has gone even to the extent of addressing some women in the party as first lady but that won’t change the status quo, I will remain the first lady and even if the president was to go I will remain former first lady and him former president,” Grace said.
She also took a swipe at party bigwigs who refuse to acknowledge her when they chant party slogans, saying that also would not change the fact that she was in charge.
“Yes, I know them, they are here and they think I will be offended when they don’t say pamberi na first lady. I don’t care. Mumoyo menyu munenge muchiti asi chimbuya chinoshanda ichi (You will be saying but the woman is a hard worker).
“I know you because you are here and you did not mention my name when you did your slogan. I am telling you this now because I don’t rely on rumours. You can do what you are doing but mark my words, when trouble visits you, you will need my help.”
Parroting Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko’s recent thinking on the subject, Grace quoted the biblical story of Adonijah who anointed himself King after realising that David was ill before the plan backfired spectacularly when the King overlooked him and chose Solomon instead.
In the Bible, Adonijah gathered his friends; and among them Joab, the general of the army, and Abiathar, one of the two high-priests, and they had a great feast, and were about to crown Adonijah as king, when word came to King David in the palace.
David, though old and feeble, was still wise. He said: “Let us make Solomon king at once and thus put an end to the plans of these men.”
So at David’s command, they brought out the mule on which no one but the king was allowed to ride; and they placed Solomon upon it; and with the king’s guards, and the nobles, and the great men, they brought the young Solomon down to the valley of Gihon, south of the city and crowned him king.
“Women have also asked me whether we are going to continue making resolutions that are not followed up and we are going to continue demanding that until it sinks in their heads and we get a result that we need,” she said.
In response to his wife, Mugabe said he would consider the recommendations by the women’s league, which also included their demands for a woman vice president.
“We came here to listen to your complaints, your cries and also your recommendations and we are good listeners,” Mugabe said.
“I hope your recommendations will reach us at the central committee level starting with the politburo then we discuss them. Whatever we should take to congress, we should do so because congress is where our constitution was crafted. But I want to say, as a party, we can’t afford to ignore your recommendations in order for you to be in a strong position as an important organ of the party and secondly as women who should be on an equal basis with men; we have heard you. I also hope you will also push hard to the right organs so that it is discussed at central committee,” he added.
Mugabe proposed that in order to fulfil the demand for a return to women’s quota, which the women’s league adopted at the Victoria Fall conference in 2015, the party should either consider having three vice presidents or go for an extra-ordinary congress.
“That would be my preference but you need to go and sit down to think about it. If we can’t have that then we will have to look at our constitution to see if we cannot have a way of amending it because constitutions are there to serve the people not people serving constitutions,” he said.
Turning to the role of members of the military in his succession, Mugabe was unequivocal in emphasising that the men in uniform should be confined to the barracks.
He also told service chiefs who are reportedly backing senior Zanu PF officials to succeed him that while they were entitled to their views, they stand to be led by politicians as doing it the other way round would be tantamount to a coup.
“The principle is that the gun should not lead politics like what we now see happening from that side (military) where they say the president should go. So that who comes next? Ndiani akatarirwa kuti ndiye anofanira kuzotora, haisi nhaka iyi. Isu hatina kutarirwa kuti tichatonga saka anozopinda ndeanenge asarudzwa nevanhu (Who said you only should be next as if it’s hereditary? We were not anointed by anyone when we came in because leadership comes from the people).
“We say no because it doesn’t matter who you are, it’s not within the principles of the party.
“It’s disgraceful to say I am the one now, the president must go. By what virtue or principle do you say it’s you? Aiwa hatidi! Hatidi (No we don’t want that).
Mugabe also warned senior party officials against seeking the ouster of his appointees to the politburo and Cabinet saying they have no power to do so.
Citing provincial ministers for Manicaland, Mashonaland Central and Midlands, (Mandi Chimene, Martin Dinha and Jason Machaya respectively), Mugabe said these were being harassed unnecessarily.
“In Manicaland there is Chimene who is being troubled but she is also stubborn because she is a war veteran, while in Midlands Machaya says the chefs also harass him because they want to give positions to those in their factions who will vote for them.
“Provinces cannot pass votes of no confidence on politburo members and those that we appoint. They can do that to provincial chairpersons but not the politburo”.
This came after Grace had revealed that she had engaged her husband to choose his successor despite his convictions that the people should determine who the next leaders should be.