Robert Mugabe, the world’s oldest president, turned 92 this week without a clear successor. His wife, Grace, however, is grooming herself for the job but will Zimbabweans favor a family dynasty even as the idea seems to have fallen out of favor in the U.S.?
Political analysts say Mugabe has no clear intention of handing over power, even as the country’s dire economic situation and drought has worsened the plight of a country that has seen four million of its citizens flee to the diaspora.
An opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, described Mrs. Mugabe’s ascendance as a “palace coup”, adding that the government has been paralyzed as members of the ruling party jockey for position.
“No one in government is thinking of solutions to the national challenges as everyone is preoccupied with issues of who will succeed this tired man steering the ship of state,” Tsvangirai was quoted by South Africa’s Mail and Guardian newspaper as saying.
Grace Mugabe is an increasingly prominent presence on Zimbabwe’s political scene, taking up a key post in the ruling party last December and going around the country addressing rallies and handing out gifts.
On Feb. 12, she announced her husband is standing in the 2018 presidential elections, vying for his 8th term.
Meanwhile, the First Lady’s tough talk roused the liberation war veterans, who had gathered at the City Sports Centre in Harare to demonstrate against attacks against them by Grace but were met by the anti-riot police who violently dispersed scores of the former fighters.
The space between the City Sports Center and the Interpol offices resembled a war zone, according to one press account, as police used teargas and other crowd control measures. At one point, police armed with batons and shields, and some with guns, exchanged insults with the former fighters, the media reported.
“This is unbelievable,” declared Victor Matemadanda, ex-Secretary of the Zimbabwe Liberation War Veterans Association. “This is a historical day in the history of Zimbabwe, to show that there is oppression as they are doing to us right now. We seem to be under (former Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian) Smith or under an American government, we don’t know what is happening now.
“These people are the foundation of the revolution. You don’t want to sit down with them why, are you Smith, are you (US President) Bush, who are you?” fumed one female war veteran, who identified herself as Comrade Karen Nehanda.
Nehanda said it was disturbing that President Mugabe was allowing his wife to continue her attacks on war veterans at her whirlwind rallies across the country.
A chastened Mugabe later made a televised national address to tell his party’s feuding factions to “shut-up”. Flanked by his two deputies he extended a rare apology to the war veterans but warned the rival camps within the ruling Zanu-PF to stop sowing division or face punishment.