By Bridget Mananavire
HARARE – In yet another public demonstration that President Robert Mugabe’s wife Grace has become arguably the single most powerful politician in the ruling post-congress Zanu PF, a huge Cabinet entourage, including Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko, accompanied her to her Manicaland rally yesterday.
This is despite the fact that the controversial First Lady said she had gone to Manicaland in her capacity as Zanu PF women’s league secretary, and also notwithstanding the serious economic challenges facing Zimbabwe that require the urgent attention of senior government officials.
And not only did the cash-strapped Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) cover the rally live once again — a special and costly exercise that is usually reserved for her husband — Grace also proceeded to delve into government policies and issuing instructions to ministers present at the gathering.
One after another, the gathered Cabinet ministers and other Zanu PF bigwigs who spoke at the rally in Chimanimani went to town praising the 50-year-old First Lady, in an embarrassing spectacle that left many people wondering about the ruling party’s so-called one-centre of power mantra that should only see Mugabe eulogised.
Most of the Cabinet ministers and party officials who graced the rally are those linked to Zanu PF’s ambitious Young Turks known as the Generation 40 (G40) group that is locked in a bitter power struggle with the supporters of Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, of whom the embattled VP was a notable absentee.
Indeed, alleged Mnangagwa supporters such as Water minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri — who had initially pushed to have yesterday’s rally held in Mutare rather than in Chimanimani — sat dejectedly in the tents, sulking and largely unrecognised, despite having donated heavily to the function.
Among the dozens of other ministers who abandoned their posts to be at yesterday’s rally were War Veterans minister Chris Mutsvangwa, Indigenisation minister Patrick Zhuwao, Media and Information minister Chris Mushowe, and Local Government minister, Saviour Kasukuwere.
Also in attendance were embattled Energy minister Samuel Undenge, Information Communication Technology minister Supa Mandiwanzira and Manicaland regional minister Mandi Chimene, who swanned about triumphantly like a peacock, basking in the glory of the political defeat of the Mnangagwa camp — at least yesterday.
And in remarks interpreted as directed at Mnangagwa and his supporters, Grace warned party bigwigs against engaging in factional politics, reminding them pointedly that they were not elected officials but Mugabe’s appointees whom he could easily get rid of.
She said the scourge of factionalism had become so deep-rooted in the post-congress Zanu PF that it was eating away the party’s support base at grassroots level.
“Factionalism is now endemic not only among the top leadership of the party but also in the lower structures and those leaders who are doing it must stop it forthwith because people are not happy and you saw their reaction when I mentioned about it,” Grace said.
“While it is the people who elected leaders, I must remind all that both you and I were appointed to our posts and so we must work for the people and not take them for granted because we will be watching you and I will not hesitate to blow the whistle when things go wrong.
“You will not blame anyone when it explodes on you as you will not be able to escape,” she added ominously.
She also warned supporters against rallying behind these factional leaders “who hold office at the pleasure” of Mugabe — further describing them as “insane”.
Grace also said she no longer worried about being called names by her critics as she had developed a thick skin following the savage shellacking that her nonagenarian husband had received over the years.
“There were times it pained me when all sorts of bad things were said about His Excellency the President but I have since said to myself I must be strong and now I have an elephant skin and that is what I am wearing,” she said.
A senior party official who spoke to the Daily News at the rally said it was clear that the First Lady was “dreaming” about succeeding her husband, with the active encouragement of the G40.
“You are seeing everything with your own eyes my friend. This is all about Dr Amai (Grace), with the G40 playing the chief cheer-leading role. Nothing is supposed to stand in her way, hence the emphasis throughout that munhu wese kuna amai (everyone must follow Grace,)” the official said in the wake of the embarrassing bootlicking that she received.
“Vanhu vese kuna amai. Kana wachema unoenda kuna mai. Chese chaunoda unoenda kuna amai. Kana uchichema unochema uchiti amai (Everyone must support Grace. When you cry you go to her and whatever you want you go to her as well),” Zhuwao, Mugabe’s nephew, gushed.
Not to be outdone, Mutsvangwa said: “Mai has come with ZimAsset. The First Lady stands and has learnt from the grandmaster her husband”.
The exceedingly excited Chimene sang a popular children’s hymn: “Ndoita kudini, ndoita kudiniko (What can I do, what can I do). It’s my turn to breast feed from amai, when we breast feed, mothers know this, and babies don’t only suck mother’s milk, they also bite a little bit”.
And even the normally dour Mphoko was not to be left out as he also showered praises on Grace in isiNdebele.
Thousands of supporters who were bussed from around the country were given T-shirts branded “Munhu wese kuna Amai” and “Unconquerable” — that were allegedly made and paid for by the G40 to spite the Mnangagwa camp.
There were reports that even flea market vendors from Mutare had been forced to abandon their wares and board buses to Chimanimani. Daily News