The Rise of Grace Mugabe of Zimbabwe

With the exception of Hillary Clinton’s attempt at entering politics during Bill Clinton’s first term as president there hasn’t been a more contentious First Lady.

Grace Mugabe (right) with her husband, Robert, at a ZANU-PF election rally in 2013. Credit: Wiki Commons.

Anybody watching political developments in Zimbabwe can’t miss First Lady Grace Mugabe’s entry into national politics as a presidential candidate. It is not uncommon that First Lady’s are part of the political process, in fact engagement in politics is part of the First Lady’s job description. It is required that the wife of the president should travel around the country convincing voters to select her husband for the highest post in the land. Until recently, the conversation about Grace Mugabe had revolved around her spending habits, her beauty, the fact that she married the president while his wife, the much beloved Sally Mugabe was lying on her death bed.

Grace Mugabe until just a few months ago had been a shadow behind her husband giving generalist First-Lady-Like-Speeches, the ones where she praised her husband’s accomplishments, often reminded Zimbabweans of his role in the struggle and like most First Ladies worked on non-controversial issues such as her children’s home. Fast forward to August 2014; Grace Mugabe made headlines when she was capped along with other Doctoral Graduates at the university of Zimbabwe. The media went crazy; there have been questions regarding the authenticity of her degree, the quality of her thesis etc. At the time those of us unaware of extent of the internal strife in the revolutionary party did not pick up on the irony of the graduation day-Grace Mugabe was capped the same day as Joyce Mujuru the current Vice President.

With the exception of Hillary Clinton’s attempt at entering politics during Bill Clinton’s first term as president there hasn’t been a more contentious First Lady. I am not the first analysis to take a cut at the implications of Grace’s entry into politics. Much of the independent commentary has portrayed Grace as divisive, and others have gone as far as calling her a useful fool. I think any analysis that attempts to provide a full picture of who political Grace is and what she means for Zimbabwe is premature. In my opinion there is nothing wrong with Amai Mugabe entering politics, it is perfectly ok, and welcome in a political environment that has for the last three decades been dominated by men. Mrs. Mugabe knows a lot about politics and perhaps as much as any of the other candidates who are likely to step up for office. Those concerned about Grace Mugabe’s viability as a candidate have every right to speak up but she should not be dismissed simply because of her gender or the fact that she is a First Lady.

Perhaps a more legitimate concern is the fact that the voice of the other woman who has been central to this political drama has been largely muted. The First Lady has leveled serious allegations against Vice President Joyce Mujuru, including that she is corrupt, has engaged in real vote buying –dollar exchange for a vote- , intimidation and that she has attempted to displace the President. The First Lady has repeatedly argued that the constitution is the basis of the Mugabe regime, it is in that same vein that she should allow for Mai Mujuru to have her day in court. Thus far it has been a kangaroo court and in some ways the First Lady has acted like a selfish spoiled child. Her behavior sets a terrible precedent for the engagement of women in politics. Often women are portrayed as catty, shallow, unambitious and weak. If the First Lady’s arguments against the VPs were based on policy considerations, her successes and or failures as a leader then you would not be hearing from me or other young women who grew up yearning for the day when Zimbabwe gets a feisty-ready-to-go female leader. Instead, Amai Mugabe has gone as far as picking on Amai Mujuru’s weight. That is possibly the lowest attack that a woman can level against another woman, and coming from a woman who continues to remind us that she is the mother of the nation it is saddening.

A democratic Zimbabwe requires that every political actor and player get a fair chance to speak their mind, and to defend their position. The claim by ZANU PF that Grace Mugabe’s rallies were not official campaign rallies is simply not true. It is clear that the First Lady is on the campaign trail, it is obvious that she is complaining for the position of Head of the Women’s League, but, her speech at the meeting with war veterans suggests that she has aspirations beyond the Women’s League, and that she is possibly aiming for the presidency. As Zimbabwe transitions into a post liberal-struggle-leadership era there is a need to also clean up the quality of politics. If Grace Mugabe is earnest about bringing infusing new blood into Zimbabwean politics then she must be willing to also do the hard work and lead by example, she must lead from the top. The future of Zimbabwe depends on Joyce Mujuru getting an opportunity to defend herself against these very serious allegations.

Image Credit: Twitter

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