HARARE - Ever since controversial First Lady Grace Mugabe revealed that the country’s vice presidents Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko take instructions from her, the two Zanu PF “strongmen” have become the butt of bad jokes at dinner tables and on social media.
And yesterday, stalwarts of the country’s liberation struggle joined the fray, describing President Robert Mugabe’s co-deputies — both of whom have until now been seen as tough and strong-willed personalities — as “weak pawns” who were allegedly clinging to their positions through “shameless bootlicking” of the nonagenarian’s influential wife.
Speaking during a ground-breaking ceremony for a housing project in Kadoma on Wednesday, 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 as if to confirm the First Lady’s power over him, Mnangagwa appeared to ask for her permission when it was time for him to depart early for Harare, before the end of the function.
Former Presidential Affairs minister and close confidant of President Robert Mugabe, Didymus Mutasa, told the Daily News yesterday that he had never heard of a minister, never mind a VP, making a report to a First Lady or any other unelected official in his long tenure in government.
He also pointed out the fact that Grace was well below the VPs even within the post-congress Zanu PF structures as Women’s League secretary, which made it even more ridiculous that the VPs would willingly subject themselves to her at State level.
“It is a new type of democracy where two vice presidents report to a person who was not elected. This only started last year at the so-called December congress. I however do not think that this type of democracy will take us far and we now have to wait and see how this circus ends,” Mutasa said.
Grace, a former typist in the president’s office, entered Zimbabwe’s tumultuous political fray last year ahead of the party’s disputed congress, and was instrumental in masterminding the decapitation of former Vice President Joice Mujuru and her allies — who have all since been purged ruthlessly from both the ruling party and government, amid untested claims that they plotted to oust and kill Mugabe.
Scornfully, Mutasa added that the behaviour of the VPs was “a clear negation” of the tenets of the liberation struggle which among other goals had aimed to bring “wholesome democracy” to the country.
“I believe people who died during the war were not fighting for this. I was not fighting for this, I was fighting for the freedom of the masses.
“I don’t know how these VPs think, although it is up to them to behave as they please because they are serving at the will of someone,” he said.
Reminded about freedom fighter Margaret Dongo’s famous words in the 1990s when she likened Zanu PF’s fawning bigwigs to Mugabe’s wives, Mutasa said tongue in cheek that he hoped Zimbabwe would not allow same sex marriage “because it could end up embarrassing us”.
Spokesperson of the “original” Zanu PF that uses the slogan People First, Rugare Gumbo -- and the first of many senior officials to be expelled from Zanu PF ahead of its damp squib “elective” congress last year, said everything that was taking place was meant to reflect that the two VPs served “at the mercy of their masters”.
“They said they wanted to create one centre of power, and these two guys were appointed by Mugabe and his wife. Mugabe and his wife now do as they want.
“So we are not surprised because to all intents and purposes, these two VPs are ceremonial, they are lame ducks who can be fired anytime,” Gumbo said.
On her part, Dongo said she was so shocked by the revelations, that for once she almost felt “tongue-tied”.
“I am still preparing a comprehensive response. This is unacceptable,” she said.
In the early 1990s, Dongo caused pandemonium in Parliament after she called Zanu PF MPs, including cabinet ministers, “Mugabe’s wives”.
So incensed by the assertion was the late liberation war icon, Solomon Mujuru, who had by then traded his military uniform for a berth in the august House, that he wanted to beat her, insisting that he was his own man.
Zanu PF insiders also told the Daily News yesterday that the majority ruling party legislators and other party members who were seeking higher officer were also “behaving like the two VPs and reporting to Amai in order to get promotions and the president’s ear”.