Grace Mugabe, the first lady of Zimbabwe and always called as the Hillary Clinton of Africa, is aiming for presidency…writes Oliver Matthews
Zimbabwe’s First Lady, Grace Mugabe, has entered politics in the hope of succeeding her ailing 90-year-old husband, President Robert Mugabe, who after 35 years in power could be thinking about retiring.
At age 49 and after spending 18 years in the shadow of her husband, Grace unexpectedly made her entry into politics a few months ago. Rumours about her candidacy to the presidency began last August after she became the new leader of the ruling Patriotic Front-African National Union (ZANU-PF) Women’s league.
Robert Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980, has so far shown no intention of resigning, but his frail health has raised speculations he would soon retire.
Everything seems to indicate Grace is being coached by her husband to fill the presidency, and she has already launched a campaign dubbed “Meet the People” which includes trips to every province to become known by her fellow countrymen.
In a meeting held in the southern city of Masvingo, Grace explained that during all these low-profile years she was “learning”.
The head of the Institute for Democracy in Zimbabwe, Pedzisai Ruhanya, said it was clear from Grace’s words that Mugabe’s political career was over.
She was preparing for a “new life” after Mugabe, above all to “protect her family’s economic interests”, Ruhanya told Efe news agency. However, the first lady has come under harsh criticism since she entered politics.
Many wonder how her campaign is being funded, as she moves around the country in a helicopter and distributes food and shirts to the thousands of people who listen to her speeches.
Mugabe’s nephew, Philip Chiyangwa, has claimed the campaign is financed by a private fund that will be extended until December, when a ZANU-PF congress will choose Mugabe’s successor.
Grace also raised eyebrows when she received a controversial doctorate from Zimbabwe’s University only three months after she joined the campus, sparking questions on whether she had gone through the tough tests other students face.
Political analysts believe the doctorate is a strong indication of the future awaiting the first lady. However, it will not be easy for her to take the reins of the ZANU-PF, divided into two factions led by Vice President Joice Mujuru and Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, who are seeking allies ahead of the party congress.
Mnangagwa surprised everyone recently when he joined Grace and became one of the backers of her political career.
The real reason behind Mnangagwa’s alliance with Grace is still unknown, as also whether it means she will be president, vice president, or take up a leading ZANU-PF post. But it is worth the wait to know if Grace will be Africa’s Hillary Clinton.