Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe‘s wife has been chosen to lead the ruling party’s women’s wing, propelling her into the powerful politburo.
A conference in Harare endorsed the nomination of the 49-year-old as the “sole” candidate for the position of the national secretary of the Zanu-PF women’s league.
The position is sure to be confirmed at the party’s elective congress in December.
“I feel very much overwhelmed” by the nomination, she told the 3 000-odd delegates who had backed her.
Grace Mugabe’s new position will propel her into the Zanu-PF party’s supreme decision-making body, the politburo.
As the national secretary of the women’s wing, the former presidential typist will sit in the Zanu-PF inner Cabinet and play an active role in the faction-riven battle to succeed her husband, who took power in 1980 on Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain.
The women’s meeting also decided that the veteran ruler should stand as the party’s presidential candidate in the 2018 elections, by which time Mugabe will be 94.
The move to back Africa’s oldest leader, as the “sole” candidate for the next national vote, sets the tone for the crucial party congress in December and comes amid speculation by analysts that a Mugabe dynasty could be in the making.
Mugabe has studiously avoided naming a successor during his 34-year rule, yet he has expressed concerns over the absence of a suitable successor.
Factions led by Vice-President Joice Mujuru and Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa have been jockeying in recent years for the presidential post, dividing the party and raising concern over its future without Mugabe.
Cost of haggling
Haggling between the two factions cost the party dearly in the 2008 elections, when Morgan Tsvangirai’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) won the majority of parliamentary seats.
Mugabe loyalists said the move to endorse Grace Mugabe as head of the women’s wing was aimed at bridging the divisions threatening to tear Zanu-PF apart.
She expressed the hope that “factionalism will come to an end”.
Grace Mugabe has taken a back seat previously in the Zanu-PF drama, keeping herself busy with charity work and lately with running businesses, including a dairy farm.
Uncertainty over Mugabe’s succession and concerns about his age and deteriorating health have divided the government and stalled growth in the ailing economy, with investors adopting a wait-and-see attitude.