HARARE - The wife of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is leading a series of ZANU-PF unity rallies around the country as part of an effort to lead the women's wing of the ruling party.
But some observers her efforts are actually part of a power-play to win the presidency when her 90-year-old husband steps down or passes away.
At a recent ZANU-PF rally in Harare, people sing their praise on Grace Mugabe's arrival.
“If there is no love, peace and unity nothing succeeds," she announced to party faithful gathered to remedy an ideological divide among ZANU-PF ranks that has left the organization split into two competing factions. "I know we are human beings. We offend each, we make mistakes. But all I want is spirit of forgiveness to be among us. Forget about bad things that people talk about, let us work together.”
Until her 49th birthday in July, most Zimbabweans looked at Grace Mugabe as a mere first lady, like her predecessor, the late Ghanaian Sally Mugabe.
Since then, however, she has entered the political fray, seeking to lead the women’s league of ZANU-PF by this December, when the party leadership meets for a congress.
Shoring up a successor
According to independent analyst Pedzisai Ruhanya, the first lady is angling to replace her 90-year old husband, the only leader independent Zimbabwe has ever known.
Aware of his advancing age, Ruhanya says, the 90-year-old president has brought his wife to the fore to ensure his family interests are protected in the event of his sudden retirement or death.
But the first lady's efforts, Ruhanya hastens to say, will not succeed.
"No, that is wishful thinking because of political stature — in terms of credentials of what ZANU-PF wants," he said. "You remember in 2002 what generals said: 'the office of the president is a straightjacket; whoever wants to occupy that office without war credentials is not possible.' From that point of view, Grace does not have war credentials as enunciated by the generals. She did not go to war."
Favorites to replace Mugabe are Vice President Joice Mujuru and Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, both believed to lead factions of ZANU-PF.
In July 2013, Mugabe won a five-year mandate to lead Zimbabwe. He has not hinted at retiring despite his age and purportedly poor health.
The Zimbabwean leader has recently increased the frequency of his visits to Singapore for medical treatment.