LONDON - There is no doubt that Grace Mugabe wields an immense amount of power within Zanu PF.
After a hiatus on medical grounds, she is back with the usual swagger and rhetoric.
Her remarks last week on Johannes Tomana, the prosecutor-general, and the call for his sacking after his comments on child marriages were in sync with popular sentiment.
The issue for debate, however, is why she, as a non-executive player, has the power to influence dismissal of State officials.
The revelation that vice presidents Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko come to her for briefings and, like schoolboys, diligently take notes, is testament to her pervasive influence.
Again, questions arise about the source of such power. Not many first ladies enjoy this indulgence from executive authorities.
A conclusion gaining currency is that, because of her continued show of power, Grace Mugabe could be our next president, and not one of the two vice presidents.
She has also stated in the past that she is a citizen and therefore could not be stopped from aspiring to hold the country’s highest office.
But under what conditions would we witness a Grace Mugabe presidency? To some, this is a prospect that they shudder to contemplate.
The conclusion about such a prospect, however, seems to be based on two presumptions that appear cavalier.
Firstly, underlying the first presumption would, on one hand, be a conclusion that Grace Mugabe is in fact popular within Zanu PF.
Because of such popularity she will be voted in by Zanu PF supporters to become the next president.
If that is the case, then Grace Mugabe winning elections on account of her popularity should not be an issue for debate. It would be the result of electoral and popular democracy rather than dynastic rule.
However, the presumption of her electoral victory in a free and fair election would seem overstated.
Grace Mugabe is demonstrably a divisive figure to generate popular public confidence for her to win an election.
She is, to a large extent, responsible for the current convulsions within Zanu PF after she single-handedly saw off former Vice President Joice Mujuru.
The presumptions that Grace Mugabe will become the next president would therefore need to take into account the fact that Zanu PF’s political base has changed. She will be seeking election from a divided party.
While not impossible, a Grace Mugabe presidency through this route of free and fair elections under such conditions is improbable. She is unlikely to garner sufficient numbers from a factionalised base.
The prospect of a Grace Mugabe presidency can only be based on another presumption, albeit more disconcerting.
Underlying this second presumption is a forgone conclusion that she would still become president whether the elections are free and fair or not.
Within this presumption is, troublingly, a sense of surrender because it entails an affirmation that indeed electoral democracy does not exist in the country.
Elections would, as usual, be manipulated to ensure her “victory.”
Given the conduct of elections in the country, then a Grace Mugabe “triumph” can indeed be envisaged under such conditions.
However, it is unlikely that opposition lethargy in the face of electoral malpractice will continue after President Robert Mugabe has departed the scene. Manipulation could result in external diplomatic intervention once more.
Zanu PF intra-party dynamics have changed; she is neither unifying nor popular and electoral manipulation will not guarantee her uncontested ascension to the presidency.
At worst, Grace Mugabe only comes across as an attention-seeking rouble-rouser animated by the trappings of uninterrupted power.
At best, she can become the “king-maker” by influencing the choice of her husband’s successor from whom she will expect the protection that Mujuru did not seem to guarantee her.