By Maynard Manyowa
Whenever Robert Mugabe is scheduled to speak anywhere, be it a rally, or funeral, the spotlight is on him. When his wife joins him, amid poisoning claims, heated succession debates, and brutal infighting, there is always lots to learn.
1. Grace Mugabe throws the kitchen sink
Grace Mugabe is not a tricky customer. She is not renowned for intellect. She is not an orator either, or a great story teller like her husband. She is the opposite of him. One thing she does though, quite well, is wear her heart on her sleeve.
But we didn’t learn this at the rally. We have always known of this.
When she spoke, she appeared visibly annoyed. Even as her husband spoke, she shouted a few times from the background, turned to her trusted cadres, the other Vice President that nobody really knows, and members of a faction called G40; known to be loyal to her.
She spoke about how she was being ‘threatened’ and ‘intimidated’ by reminders that the other Vice President, the one everyone knows about, had the backing of the military and the war veterans.
She tongue lashed him. Threw a tantrum about Mnangagwa having tea, and whiskey with former Zanu PF members expelled for denigrating her husband. (Although she really meant herself). She threw a bigger tantrum about Mnangagwa owning a mug inscribed with the words – I AM THE BOSS
She attacked war veteran leaders, and Zanu PF members whose actions threaten the interests of her loyalists. She denied that she led a faction at all, or that her loyalists belong to any faction. Instead she accused Mnangagwa of leading a faction – Lacoste!
In all that, Mrs. Mugabe appeared extremely panicky and somewhat desperate. Her allies are under attack (she also claimed, without calling them allies though), she feels her husband’s grip on power is being tested. She has said before that Mugabe should name a successor so that the debate and volatile environment it has created are solved. Not for the interest of her party, but because she feels increasingly threatened.
This is not without reason though. Her biggest ally, Minister Saviour Kasukuwere was nearly pushed out. He earned 9 out of 10 votes of no confidence from provincial structures. He was a goner until Grace Mugabe intervened through her husband.
“Her biggest fear now is that, those who nearly engineered Kasukuwere’s expulsion were not simply aiming for a mere National Political Commissar (Kasukuwere’s party position). They were merely getting him out of the way so they aim their guns at the Mugabe’s.” an insider from the G40 camp said, on condition of anonymity.
2. Mugabe does a Mantashe on his wife, refuses to endorse her attacks
In urban lingo, a Mantashe, is a person who does a spectacular 180 degree turn from a previous position, or who sets you up and then contradicts your supposedly agreed position. ANCs secretary general, Gwede Mantashe’s constant flip flops have inscribed his surname into contradiction folklore.
Where Grace Mugabe spoke of the ‘treasonous’ mug and its ‘I am the boss’ message, Robert Mugabe laughed, that should someone “be killed over a simply mug”.
President Robert Mugabe speaks on the Mug issue absolving his deputy. His wife Grace looks annoyed by his dismissal of her claims.
Where his wife said the G40 faction did not exist at all. Mugabe said the opposite. He said it existed and pointed at Grace’s biggest ally Kasukuwere as the brains behind it.
Where Grace Mugabe had complained that another ally, Minister Jonathan Moyo was being victimized by successionists. Mugabe insisted instead that Moyo’s attacks on Mnangagwa were inspired by personal differences.
He narrated how Moyo, with the help of Mugabe’s businessman nephew Philip Chiyangwa had tried to engineer a coup of sorts back in the early 2000s. He narrated that Mnangagwa had not attended any meetings meant to topple him.
He effectively reminded his wife’s allies that they had been at the forefront of trying to remove him from power. That the ‘disloyal Mnangagwa’ had been ‘busy with other things’.
All the while, Grace appeared extra annoyed. It got worse when he thwarted her desire to see him name a successor.
“I will not name a successor… even if it is my wife… it would be against the constitution” he stated.
Mugabe’s wife spoke for a while. Her main messages were simple though. Mnangagwa is disloyal. His supporters are ambitious and power hungry. Her husband is being denigrated. Grace’s allies who also spoke carried the same message.
Mugabe spoke for a while too. But his main messages were the exact opposite of his wife’s messages. He contradicted her at every crucial turn. In some ways, after the massive build up, where it seemed Mugabe would all but rubber stamp Mnangagwa’s exit, he downplayed everything.
He even scoffed at the accusations labelled by Jonathan Moyo in a lengthy expose.
One had something to do with a confrontation at a mistress’s house. The others were many but rather baseless. In the words of Mugabe.
In the end, he said that no one would be ‘chased away from the party because of rumors. His wife’s biggest amour against the rival Vice President was debunked and scoffed at.
3. Zanu PF will likely win the next elections
Zimbabwe’s opposition parties held an alliance rally in Matebeleland province a few days ago. The rally was meant to be a star attraction. Prodical sons, who left the biggest party, the MDC-T years ago were gracing the event, to signal a coalition of sorts.
Just over a thousand people attended. This in the opposition’s stronghold.
It is a sign of the times. Massive voter apathy. Confusion and lack of strategy. Massive infighting within the opposition itself.
In Bindura, Mugabe pulled tens and tens of thousands of people. Some state media agencies have put the figure at above 130,000 people. Though this sounds exaggerated as it means the venue carried close to 7 times its carrying capacity.
Part of the massive crowds gathered in Bindura for the rally
Nonetheless, the numbers were there. It’s a sign of the mobilization techniques used by Zanu PF.
Factionalism might have split the party. But Mugabe’s team know how to unite for a common cause. They might be at daggers drawn, but power is too irresistible for them to part. It unites them.
If anything, factionalism has fractured the opposition instead.
Even the new breed of activists and civil society leaders are opting to contest as independents.
Voter registration has since opened. Zanu PF will hold another rally in Matebeleland. It will, by going standards, be filled. They are in election mode. The opposition are struggling.
4. Mugabe still loves his lays.
Robert Mugabe loves his potato crisp chips. Specifically, lays. When he was not sleeping, he was pictured having them passionately, while seeming disinterested in anything else. Like at every other rally so far.
Robert Mugabe munches on some lays!
5. Youth interface rallies where youth are not the agenda
Robert Mugabe spoke briefly about gold panning, and awarding youth opportunities to enter small scale mining, without harming the environment.
But that was just about it. Nothing else was said. His wife, who spoke the longest, was more interested in fighting about ice cream, mugs, coffee, tea and whiskey.
Zimbabwe’s Minister of Youth, Patrick Zhuwao chants Zanu PF slogans at the youth rally where youth issues were not on the agenda.
Or, at times, about girlfriends, and t-shirts. She was more concerned about her power, her authority, politics, and succession. Youth were not on the agenda.
This was a youth rally turned into an insult contest. A youth rally in name, a Mugabe rant stage in practice.
This is Zimbabwe, and the absurd is not new. This is what we learnt from the latest youth interface rally.
• Maynard Manyowa is a journalist and co-editor of Khuluma Afrika – a center for investigative journalism, analysis and commentary.