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Zanu PF Succession: Will Grace Mugabe be Queen?

The following is a report by the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute in which they look at the political rise of the First Lady Grace Mugabe and her chances of taking over from the husband as president in Zimbabwe.


The orderly transfer of power from one political leader to another is a litmus test for the stability and legitimacy of a political system and the success to which the transfer is orderly conducted posits the maturity of the political system.

Grace Mugabe addressed her latest power exhibition show in Rushinga yesterday
Grace Mugabe addressed her latest power exhibition show in Rushinga

Throughout history, succession to power has been one of the trickiest political problems faced by polities, no matter what kind of political infrastructure they run.

In prehistoric tribes as much as in modern countries, who becomes the new leader whenever the incumbent paramount dies, the term of office expires, renounces or loses his capacity to rule, has been and is a tough political problem, for it can very easily – and has very frequently indeed – bring up battles between candidates to succeed to the throne.

The transfer of power from one individual to the other has become more of a crisis of stability and survival of the political system particularly in personalized, charismatic and powerful monolithic parties such as Zanu PF.

This paper seeks to analyze the succession question in Zanu PF with particular lenses on the seeming familial succession centered on the Zanu PF Secretary to the Women’s League and First Lady Grace Mugabe.

It critically and analytically examines the broader succession question in Zanu PF; tracing Grace Mugabe’s ascent and exercise of her power and the sustainability of such a project.

Submitting that the lack of a clearly defined mechanism for succession and a successor can be fatal, the main persuasive reasoning that makes this paper relevant in the current Zimbabwean political discourse is the significance of the succession question in Zanu PF and its implications on the national body politic due to the state- party conflation.

Focusing on the politics of succession at this point in the history is critical and represents a concrete contribution to prevailing debate on the long-term political economy configurations, debates and contraction in Zimbabwe marked by a protracted and unpredictable political transition.

Deaths, Palace Coups and the Politics of Succession in Zanu PF

Succession into the highest political office of any political system or entity may mark a moment of calamity. This is particularly true in political systems and organisations whose succession framework is impervious and open to manipulation.

President Mugabe and wife Grace
President Mugabe and wife Grace

Leadership survival and succession have long been considered some of the most daunting challenges for competitive authoritarian regimes such as Zimbabwe.

Succession generally means the process of changing leadership fundamentally involves three stages; namely, the vacating of office by the incumbent ruler; the selection of a new leader and the legitimization of the new leader. Succession times are often nervous times and even more precarious for securitized parties such as Zanu PF.

It seems unlikely that competitive authoritarian states can devise institutions for smooth and orderly succession where the notion for the president-for-life is attractive. The enormous powers vested in the presidency have transformed the Zimbabwean president into a totalitarian imperial monarch exercising feudal powers.

The president is both the head of state and government, has ultimate control of the armed forces, the police, the civil service, parliament, the judiciary and the ruling party.

The incumbent, President Robert Mugabe has for the past three decades, virtually captured and controls the State and its various and critical institutions such as the security/coercive apparatuses and economic installations that oils his patronage system. As a result, President Mugabe has managed to rule since 1980.

Handing over power at the highest level Zanu PF since the formation of the party in 1963 has been problematic. The party has had two leaders; the late Ndabaningi Sithole, who was dethroned in 1975 and President Mugabe who took over in 1977.

After its unity with PF ZAPU in 1987, the party’s five vice presidents this far the late Joshua Nkomo, Simon Muzenda, Joseph Msika, John Nkomo bar one were succeeded through death. Only former vice President Joice Mujuru was dethroned during a chaotic Congress in December 2014 after being accused of attempting to topple President Mugabe from power.

In order to consolidate his hold on power, Mugabe made changes to the constitution that allowed him to appoint his deputies allegedly to facilitate having one center of power in the party. His continued incumbency is despite his advanced age of 91 years.

Clapham (1988) asserts that succession tends to be more anarchic when the incumbent is either very old and/or has been in power for several years. The justification is that as a leader ages, especially in more personalized polities such as Zimbabwe, the political system tends to wane, making succession more traumatic.

The Political Rise of Grace Mugabe

Just like any other First Lady, Grace Mugabe has always played a role in politics albeit in the shadows of her husband. The position of the First Lady is not an elected one and thus carries no legal duties at State level in terms of the provisions of the Constitution.

First Ladies support their husbands on campaign trails and mostly engage in charity work. For the Zimbabwean First Lady, this was her role until her entrance into mainstream politics in 2014. Since her entrance into politics, the most topical question in Zimbabwe today on succession in Zanu PF centres on whether or not Grace Mugabe will be a contender to succeed her 91-year-old husband as president.

Until 2014, Grace Mugabe had maintained a subtle position in politics. The departure was made during her nationwide ‘meet the people tour’ rallies. Her message centred on getting rid of Joice Mujuru who she unsympathetically accused of plotting to usurp power in Zanu PF and Zimbabwe using unconstitutional means to the extent of plotting the assassination of President Mugabe.

At the instigation of Grace Mugabe, Zanu PF conducted a purging process prior to and post the December 2014 congress resulting in the expulsion from both party and government of senior officials including the then Vice President Joice Mujuru and several cabinet ministers.

So robust has been Grace Mugabe’s entry into mainstream politics that she is now the power broker in Zanu PF and in Zimbabwe. Her decisive role in the purging of key figures from Zanu PF and government have consolidated the first family’s grip on Zanu PF and Zimbabwe thereby convoluting the succession debate.

In Zanu PF today, conceivably for one to hold a position appears not to be based on merit and electoral popularity but ones loyalty and proximity to the first family. Provincial leaders such as Ziyambi Ziyambi who have dared to cross this line have met the full wrath of Grace Mugabe’s martial law.

Face Off: Oppah Muchinguri, the late Amos Midzi and Grace Mugabe
Face Off: Oppah Muchinguri, the late Amos Midzi and Grace Mugabe

Zanu PF slogans such as “vanhu vese kuna amai” (all party followers should support Grace Mugabe) and t-shirts with Grace Mugabe’s face and inscribed “unconquerable” present Grace Mugabe as the interest aggregation point and political convergence point in Zanu PF.

However, that such messages have caused rumpuses indicate that the succession war is far from over and not everyone in Zanu PF subscribes to her candidature. Messages such as unconquerable raise questions on who the supposed conquerors are, who the contestants are and what contest there is.

Grace Mugabe and Elite Disintegration in ZANU PF

Arguably, the most discernible of Grace Mugabe’s entry into mainstream ZANU PF politics is stirring of elite disintegration in the hierarchy of party as she makes her way to the top. This disintegration has witnessed the expulsion of the party and government’s senior leadership as she assumes the power of her octogenarian husband.

It is significant to observe that Grace Mugabe is not the first secretary to the women’s league. This position has been held before, for instance, by Joice Mujuru from 1967 to 1987; Sally Mugabe from 1987 to 1992; Oppah Muchinguri before relinquishing the post in 2014. The manner in which these predecessors navigated this office is in complete divergence to the current modus operandi presenting Grace Mugabe as sui generis.

Despite the First Lady’s lenient and continuous denials that she does not habour presidential ambitions, her statements and actions on the ground seem to betray that assertion and many believe today that she is indeed angling for the presidency.

Though ranked at a lowly 16th position in the Zanu PF politburo, Grace Mugabe commandeers a wealth of power which can plausibly be attributed to her proximity to the president. Article 8 of the Zanu PF constitution titled The Political Bureau and The Secretariat of the Central Committee provides the hierarchical structure of the politburo stating;

There shall be a Political Bureau (hereafter referred to as “Politburo”) which shall be the Secretariat of the Central Committee and shall consist of forty nine (49) members with one third of the total membership being women and shall rank in order of precedence as follows:

(1) The President and First Secretary;

(2) Two (2) Vice Presidents and Second Secretaries;

(3) The National Chairman;2

(4) The Secretary for Administration;

(5) The Secretary for Finance;

(6) The Secretary for Commissariat;

(7) The Secretary for External Relations;

(8) The Secretary for National Security;

(9) The Secretary for Transport and Social Welfare;

(10) The Secretary for Information and Publicity;

(11) The Secretary for Legal Affairs;

(12) The Secretary for Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment;

(13) The Secretary for Production and Labour;

(14) The Secretary for Health and Child Welfare;

(15) The Secretary for Economic Affairs;

(16) The Secretary for Women’s Affairs;

(17) The Secretary for Youth Affairs;

(18) The Secretary for Education;

(19) The Secretary for Gender and Culture;

(20) The Secretary for Welfare of the Disabled and Disadvantaged Persons;

(21) The Secretary for Land Reform and Resettlement;

(22) The Secretary for Science and Technology;

(23) The ten (10) Committee Members;

(24) Nineteen (19) Deputies to the Heads of Departments of the Politburo.

Although the constitutions of Zanu PF and Zimbabwe do not have provisions for First Lady, the manner in which Mrs. Mugabe is exercising power is thus unprecedented. It appears, due to advanced age on the part of the president, there is a power vacuum in both the state and the party which the First Lady has filled.

It also appears some of the duties President Mugabe used to carry out have since been delegated to the First Lady. Accordingly, this paper argues that Grace Mugabe is not her own person but an extension and protégé of President Robert Mugabe which may point to familial succession in Zimbabwe. Grace Mugabe’s project cannot and should not be viewed in isolation but a political institution whose actions have the full approbations of the head of state and Zanu PF’s 1st secretary.

While it is conformist in monarchies for the children of the Head of State to succeed their parents, this practice is becoming an increasing phenomenon across some republics. Togo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea have been subject to familial succession, with many other African leaders speculated to be grooming their children as potential successors. Changes to the Zanu PF constitution during the December 2014 congress gave powers to president Mugabe to appoint his deputies making it probable for him to appoint his wife as vice president and successor if he so desires.

What is also striking about the manner in which Grace Mugabe is exercising power, which suggests that she now occupies a place higher than her constitutional position in Zanu PF are the live broadcasts of her rallies by the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.

Her rallies in November 2014 and the current jaunt are broadcast live, usually a preserve of the president, even at the expense of important processes and institutions such as parliament. Furthermore, even President Mugabe’s presiding of graduation ceremonies at the University of Zimbabwe and Chinhoyi University two weeks and a week ago respectively were not broadcast live.

What has also become a misnomer is the manner in which cabinet ministers and senior government officials throng these rallies even at the expense of government business. If the protocol processes at these rallies are anything to go by, Grace Mugabe seems to have occupied a position equal to the president both in Zanu PF and government.

That at these rallies she is introduced by the Vice President, who is constitutionally her superior in government and Zanu PF, indicates that she now wields more power and her growing seniority.

Minister Chombo kneeling before Grace Mugabe at a rally
Minister Chombo kneeling before Grace Mugabe at a rally

However, what has been absent in Grace Mugabe’s project, which is also synonymous with every Zanu PF political process, is the overt face of state security apparatus.

Senior officials of the uniformed forces who are religiously present at president Mugabe’s rallies have not been present at the First Lady’s rallies. Attendance of high- ranking officials of the security apparatus of the state will likely be the final straw in endorsing Grace Mugabe’s ascension to the office of the president.

Additionally, allegations that Grace Mugabe fronts a faction within Zanu, the G40, which is engaged in an internecine war of attrition with the Mnangagwa faction in the succession battle is an indication of growing tension within the party even after the creation of the so called one centre of power in president Mugabe during the December 2014 congress.

Grace Mugabe’s Power Project and the Political Economy Problematic As is increasingly evident that Grace Mugabe is positioning herself for the top post, questions arise as to the sustainability of this project as well as the stability of Zanu PF.

Given the historical matrix of the party, there is general consensus that any successor to Robert Mugabe must possess fundamental attributes. First, the successor must be a political heavyweight in order to keep an eventual turbulence within the party under control.

The ambiguity associated with succession in the Zanu PF constitution, the penchant towards the relegation of constitutional provisions to political processes and the fluidity of the succession question itself mean that the person to assume the thrown must be a political heavyweight acceptable to all structures of the party.

The probability of the succession question degenerating into chaos cannot be overruled hence the successor must possess attributes that enable him or her to rise above the chaos and maintain a grip on the party.

Second, Mugabe’s successor will need to have legitimacy before the population and the support of the masses that backed Robert Mugabe.

Whether or not ZANU PF and its various groups will accept Grace Mugabe to be president remains to be seen. However, more importantly as alluded to earlier, the successor will need endorsement key institutions such as the military.

Due to the political-military nexus that exists between Zanu PF and the security apparatus of the state, the military is a vital ingredient in the succession matrix. It can be argued that the military holds veto power in the succession race as a result of the military dominated civilian military relations and the securitization of state institutions.

On the eve of the 2002 presidential election, the military made clear what attributes should a person aspiring for the office of the president possess. The then Defence Forces Commander Vitalis Zvinavashe affirmed;

“We wish to make it very clear to all Zimbabwean citizens that the security organisations will only stand in support of those political leaders that will pursue Zimbabwean values, traditions and beliefs for which thousands of lives were lost.

“Let it be known that the highest office in the land is a straightjacket whose occupant is expected to observe the objectives of the liberation struggle. We will therefore not accept, let alone support or salute, anyone with a different agenda that threatens the very existence of our sovereignty, our country and our people”

President Robert Mugabe and some of his generals
President Robert Mugabe and some of his generals

Third, a successor to Robert Mugabe should also be able to hold the party and state up, that is, be the glue that will cement all the warring factions, bringing together the winners and the losers. Owing to the protracted and tortuous nature of the succession battle in Zanu PF and like in any political contest, there will emerge winners and losers. It will be the perquisite of the successor to be legitimate in order to hold the party together.

This is because President Mugabe has denigrated everyone else within the power elite including aspirants to succession and has consolidated his power on a charismatic basis and on a personal relationship with the people, which relationship is not transferable to his successor.

Fourth and perhaps more significant relates to one of the pillars of Zanu PF survival that is the relationship between politics and the economy. Zanu PF has managed to survive thus far owing to the deliberate structure of the political economy resulting in the politicisation of commerce and the commercialisation of politics manifest in the vesting of the economy in a petty bourgeoisie that is loyal to the state and party.

Hence any potential successor must not only have the capacity to perpetuate this relationship but must also be acceptable, have links to and the backing of this petty bourgeoisie class.

The successor must also be in tune with the regional and international economy and play a critical role in the comprador state that Zanu PF has become in order to excite both the domestic and foreign markets.

The relationship with international capital will be critical. Political patronage alone will not be adequate to run a modern economy but must be scaffolded by promises of tangible economic benefits on the part of the petty bourgeoisie class in return for political support. President Mugabe has managed to play this critical role building a forceful relationship between the structure, agents and institutions in the political economy.

The primary question then is; does and will Grace Mugabe possess these key attributes?


From the foregoing, succession, as a central aspect of a political system, can be considered a main element at the heart of the survival of any political system. In personalized and securitized parties such as Zanu PF, the usual lack of rules regarding the transfer of power from the incumbent to his successor makes the transition period even more delicate.

For it is likely in competitive authoritarian and personalized regimes that political instability arises due to power struggles between candidates to succession. The capability of Zanu PF to prepare for leadership change will shape broader future political stability in Zimbabwe.

As the succession debate continues to unfold, whether or not Grace Mugabe will succeed her husband depends on her ability to rise above factions, chaos and political acrimonious quarreling in Zanu PF, endearing herself to the security apparatus of the state, being able and have the legitimacy to glue the party together and being acceptable to the petty bourgeoisie.

However, because of a deficiency of robust internal democracy and, in particular, established mechanisms for succession, lack of planning for transition, crackdown on internal nonconformists, manipulation of constitutional rules, and that succession is unprecedented in post independent Zimbabwe and Zanu PF, the task ahead looks daunting.