Sunday, December 7, 2014 12:03 am
Zimbabwe’s ruling party on Saturday put President Robert Mugabe’s wife Grace on the path to follow him to the top job by naming her to head the powerful women’s wing.
On the final day of the ZANU-PF party congress, delegates elected 49-year-old Grace Mugabe as the new women’s league boss, and a member of the party’s central committee, which would place her high among the contenders to succeed her 90-year-old husband.
As First Lady, she shied away from the public in the early years, while her lavish tastes and love for shopping abroad earned her the sobriquets “Gucci Grace” and “First Shopper”.
But since winning the surprise nomination in August to head the ZANU-PF women’s wing, she has made no secret of her ambition to clinch the southern African country’s presidency.
Not that Mugabe has any plans to stand down soon as he was once again anointed Saturday the party’s leader and candidate in the next elections in 2018.
“I want to thank you profoundly for once again choosing me to lead you,” Mugabe told the thousands of cheering supporters at the key congress.
“I know where I come from… I am not greater than the people who gave birth to me,” said the man who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980.
He also announced that he would appoint the party’s administrative politburo by the middle of next week.
“There will be disappointments but we will try to be as objective as possible. We will try to avoid factionalism,” he said in his closing address.
“I am there as long as I still have strength in me.”
On Wednesday, Mugabe sought to draw a line under years of unrest within the ruling ZANU-PF, which have seen key lieutenants jockey for position in anticipation that his days in power are coming to an end.
The firebrand leader slapped down speculation he would stand down as “foolish” and “idiotic”.
– ‘We need bigger applause’ –
A series of top officials, including former spokesman Rugare Gumbo, have been expelled from the party, but it is Vice President Joice Mujuru who has taken the brunt of the cull.
Seen as a relative moderate, she has endured a sustained campaign led by Grace Mugabe, who publicly accused her of corruption and even of plotting to assassinate her husband.
Mujuru, 59, widow of the country’s first black army chief, did not attend the congress after failing to win a seat on the party’s central committee.
On Saturday when Mugabe announced his wife’s new role in the party it was met with tepid applause that led party chairman Simon Khaya Moyo to exhort the crowd to cheer louder.
“We need a bigger applause,” he said, and the delegates began shouting, “Amai! Amai!” (Mother! Mother!).
Efforts to change perceptions of Grace Mugabe have dominated state-run media since her entry into active politics, with her supporters showering her with new nicknames — such as “Dr Amai (Doctor Mother)”, “unifier” and “queen of queens”.
The former secretary had waged a fierce campaign for the women’s league post, disparaging her rivals especially Mujuru.
Now with Mujuru apparently out of the succession race, eyes have turned back to 68-year-old Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was named to the party’s central committee.
He was himself the victim of a purge in 2004 Mwhen he lost a key ZANU-PF job after being accused of excessive ambition while angling for the post of vice president which Mujuru then won.