HARARE - Analysts and opposition parties yesterday accused First Lady Grace Mugabe of reinforcing negative perceptions that there had been “a bedroom coup” at State House and that her nonagenarian husband, President Robert Mugabe, was no longer in charge of the country’s levers of power.
This followed the gaffe-prone Grace’s brazen flaunting of her political influence on Wednesday when she humiliated vice presidents Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko publicly by revealing that the two Zanu PF strongmen took instructions from her.
Speaking during the ground-breaking ceremony for a housing project in Kadoma, Grace — who has no formal executive functions — surprised the gathered crowd when she disclosed that she often sat down with the two VPs, who were both present at the function, to tell them what to do.
“The leadership of VPs has changed. It is different because in the short time that these two men have been appointed to office, I cannot count how many times I have sat down with them and discussed the development of Zimbabwe.
“That is the leadership that we want, leaders who know they are servants of the people. They know they are there to work for the people and understand that they have been given jobs to work for the people.
“They know that they must sit down with amai to discuss about developmental issues. I support that. VP Mnangagwa, I support that and am sure you have lost count the number of meetings we have had.
“This never happened in the past as there was a woman who wore dresses like me (former Vice President Joice Mujuru) but never came to me to discuss about the development of Zimbabwe.
“But I tell you, Mnangagwa comes with a notebook, Mphoko comes with a notebook to listen to me. They know I am younger than them but they appreciate that I am amai and I have something to tell them about developing the nation.
“They will be taking down notes as I speak. I tell you, they will be jotting down notes as I speak so that the nation moves forward. I would like to tell them that I want that relationship to continue because that is the only way Zimbabwe can develop and become successful,” Grace said.
And in a development that reflected her power, both VPs went out of their way to brown-nose her at the function, while Mnangagwa appeared to seek her permission first when he was about to depart early before the end of the function.
The opposition parties and analysts who spoke to the Daily News yesterday said Grace was “wittingly or unwittingly” reinforcing concerns first raised by former war veterans leader Jabulani Sibanda that she was now Zimbabwe’s de facto leader.
Sibanda, who was subsequently booted out of Zanu PF, colourfully pronounced that he was not going to allow “any coup both in the boardroom and in the bedroom” at the height of Zanu PF’s factional and succession wars last year — as it became increasingly clear that she had become very powerful in the run-up to the ruling party’s disputed December congress.
The utterances subsequently resulted in Sibanda being incarcerated on charges of breaching the country’s controversial slander laws — insulting or undermining the authority of the president — and the matter is still before the courts.
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s spokesperson, Luke Tamborinyoka, said it was “clear that Grace is now the de facto leader of Zimbabwe”.
“When you have two VPs, pen and notebook in hand, daily taking notes and instructions not from the president, but from his wife, it means a de facto Head of State is now in charge.
“Mugabe should resign on account of dereliction of duty, even though that duty was stolen in the first place. And some may have a legitimate concern as to where the president will be when his two male deputies engage in these regular consultations with his wife.
“And just like the economy which is now largely informal, so too have the president’s powers gone to the streets. The powers are now on the informal market and being vended in the streets, far from the designated places,” Tamborinyoka said.
MDC Renewal Team spokesperson, Jacob Mafume, said bluntly that Zimbabwe had allegedly become a banana republic.
“No wonder the country is in an economic mess. The VPs are taking notes from a person whose only experience is managing an orphanage. What is pitiful is that senior government officials are taking notes from a novice. It puts paid their purported credentials as commanders during the war when they are tossed from pillar to post by Hurricane Grace,” Mafume said.
Zapu spokesperson Mjobisa Noko said it was allegedly clear that Mugabe was “no longer fit to rule”.
“Observance of the Constitution has been thrown out of the window. The First Lady has now become the de facto Head of State and Commander-in-Chief, which does not surprise us.
“We have a president who is a nonagenarian and is always airborne and reneging on his duties. As Zapu, we reiterate that Mugabe is no longer fit to rule. He has failed the nation as he is abdicating his duties to his wife,” Noko said.
Spokesperson of the smaller MDC led by Welshman Ncube, Joshua Mhambi, said Zimbabwe was “being run like a monarch”.
“The claim by Grace Mugabe that the two VPs consult her on matters of development reveals a serious government crisis. Zimbabwe is a republic and not a monarch, but as things stand, this republic is being run like a monarch,” he said.
Senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, Dewa Mavhinga, said what Grace had revealed inadvertently when she said the country’s vice presidents were now in the habit of taking notes from her was “the emergence of a family dynasty”.
“Why would government leaders take notes from her when she has no post in government? It is becoming clear that while her husband is around, she has become the power behind the throne, but only because Mugabe is around.
“It is also a sign of bad governance and a breakdown in the rule of law. Government must be run by established institutions not through kitchen cabinets or at Grace Mugabe’s feet,” Mavhinga said.
Political analyst, Maxwell Saungweme, said Grace was “running the state affairs from the First Family’s bedroom”.
“What she says carries the day. The elected president is too old and tired, leaving the energetic and ambitious First Lady in control. It may not be too far off the mark to speculate on who will be Zanu PF’s presidential candidate in 2018,” he said.