HARARE, ZIMBABWE —
Zimbabwe's first lady, Lady Grace Mugabe, is set to become part of the ruling party's highest-decision making body and possibly the country’s next president.
And analysts say the move could dent the chances of Vice President Joice Mujuru succeeding 90-year-old President Robert Mugabe when his term ends.
Two out of three key organs in Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party in recent days nominated Mrs. Mugabe to lead the party's women’s section. That puts her in line to be in the party’s central committee — its highest decision-making body.
Some analysts say Mugabe asked his wife to enter politics so she can take over. His term ends in 2017, although he is eligible to run for re-election. Others believe Mugabe wants to position her as a counterweight to Mujuru or other potential rivals in the party.
Oppah Muchinguri, who has been leading the party's women's section, said she will step down in favor of the president's wife. She hopes factionalism and debate over Mugabe's successor will now become a thing of the past.
“It is not easy because mother [Mrs. Mugabe] had been saying 'I do not wanna be in politics,'” Muchingur said. “But she was asked to join it. So mother; your children say lead us.”
Mujuru and Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa are considered favorites to eventually take over from Mugabe, who has been Zimbabwe’s leader since 1980 when the country won its independence from Great Britain.
Pedzisai Ruhanya, who heads the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, said that at minimum, Mrs. Mugabe will be significant figure in Zimbabwean politics going forward.
"This is Grace realizing that it is nearing his sunset in terms of his political career,” Ruhanya said. “Anyone who wants to take over from Mugabe must make sure that the future of the family is protected. If that person takes over from Mugabe, must make sure that Grace is found as a minister or an important figure in any future government after Mugabe."
On Friday, Mugabe addressed his party’s youth conference but mentioned nothing about retiring from politics.
On several occasions, he has attacked senior officials who talk about succession, saying that fuels factionalism within Zimbabwe’s ruling party.