Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Is Zimbabwe facing matriarchy?

By Gift Phiri

Despite spirited denials by President Robert Mugabe, it is clear that the First Lady Grace Mugabe’s counsel is now of first importance in changing the tide of affairs in Zimbabwe.

File picture of First Lady Grace Mugabe in parliament alongside army general Constantine Chiwenga
File picture of First Lady Grace Mugabe in parliament alongside army general Constantine Chiwenga

Fervently Christian but ruthless by reputation, Grace has never sought to deny exercising political influence on her doddering husband. By Mugabe’s own admission, he always confides in his wife, even where matters of State were concerned.

With characteristic feminine candour, Grace has always insisted that she had to do what she felt was right, even though often the result has been injustice that has evoked a strong reaction.

Frequently mingling politics with the evangelical faith she practises, she is attracting withering criticism for vaulting political ambitions that have stirred up the ruling party Zanu PF.

Grace Mugabe, a former presidential secretary whose 1996 wedding to President Robert Mugabe was the stuff of fairy tales, has hinted she would like to take over the leadership of Zanu PF.

Her thinly-veiled aspirations to become Defence minister — which may be far-fetched given reported resistance from service chiefs — is infuriating die-hards in Zanu PF, and war veterans’ ranks.

Commentators are targeting Grace, 49, accusing her of manipulating her 91-year-old husband, who is struggling to keep the economy afloat or otherwise make his mark on the presidency after his controversial “landslide victory” on June 29, 2013.

Grace — unlike her much-loved predecessor Sarah Hayfron, a Ghanaian fondly remembered by Zimbabweans simply as Sally — has tried to stay out of the spotlight until the race to succeed her husband heated up ahead of the damp squib Zanu PF congress in December last year.

Unlike the late Sally Mugabe, a freedom fighter who took active part in the guerrilla struggle that led to Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, the current first lady seriously lacks humility, although the State media has heaped praise on her, describing her as “articulate, smart, and an asset to both her husband and women voters.”

Grace, on the other hand expends most of her energy shopping and shouting at her husband’s political rivals.

Beyond the bounds of wifely support, Grace’s political designs have become a headache for her husband, owing to the uncouth language she has used on the campaign trail, mainly to denigrate her husband’s rivals.

Mugabe has been forced to use his birthday interview to dispel widespread concern that she has become the power behind the throne.

This is significant.

She is a woman who provokes antonyms; often in the same breath, described as inciting love and terror, someone who intrigues or irritates, attracts or repels.

Grace has become a towering and intimidating figure who has sucked the oxygen out of the spheres she dominates. She has amassed power not because of merit, but because she is using female power and proximity to power to ascend the throne.

Given the stampede at the airport to welcome her back from the Far East after undergoing surgery, there is no doubt that she has become a powerful figure in Zimbabwean politics.

If we are not careful, Zimbabwe faces impending matriarchy. Daily News