Zimbabwe has been synonymous with the name Mugabe since gaining independence in 1980, and after political events on Monday, that trend looks likely to continue.
President Robert Mugabe gave perhaps the clearest indication that he was preparing for his wife, Grace Mugabe, to succeed him. The 93-year-old leader fired his deputy, former vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa, accusing him of disloyalty and deceitfulness.
Mnangagwa’s departure was not necessarily surprising: There had been rumors of rifts between him and the president for months, and Mnangagwa suffered a mysterious bout of food poisoning in August that some of his supporters blamed on the first lady. The president’s wife is now the prime contender to become her husband’s political deputy.
And Grace Mugabe has made it clear that her intentions do not end with the vice-presidency. The first lady—who at 52 years old is 41 years junior to her husband—has challenged Mugabe to name his successor and has said that he should have “no fear” in giving her the job.
The thought of a continuation of Mugabe’s dynasty has sparked grave concern among some in Zimbabwe. While the country has remained politically stable since independence, Mugabe has been accused of massive economic mismanagement. Zimbabwe was forced to abandon its currency in 2009 after hyperinflation that saw the country printing trillion-dollar notes, while Mugabe’s controversial land reform program—which saw white-owned land forcibly seized and redistributed, often to the president’s cronies—resulted in international bodies slapping crippling sanctions on the Zimbabwe government.
Zimbabwe goes to the polls in 2018, and President Mugabe is standing for another five-year term. But when he eventually steps down or dies, is there anyone to block Grace Mugabe from taking his position?
Mugabe’s long-term political opponent, Tsvangirai, 65, leads the main faction of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Tsvangirai actually served alongside Mugabe as prime minister in a power-sharing government set up in 2009 following disputed elections. One of the few Zimbabwean politicians besides Mugabe with recognition inside and outside the country, Tsvangirai has decades of experience and has long been seen as the only opposition leader capable of challenging the president.
But Tsvangirai has recently suffered from health problems, including colon cancer, and has by no means a spotless record. Tsvangirai was a member of the ruling ZANU-PF coalition in his early days and an ally of Mugabe, and has also faced opposition within the MDC that led to the splitting of the party into two factions in 2005.
If Mnangagwa is feeling persecuted at the moment, he can take solace in the fact that the same thing happened to Mujuru before him. Mujuru, 62, was once so close to Mugabe that she considered herself his daughter. She gained prominence during the liberation war for purportedly shooting down a Rhodesian helicopter and served as Mugabe’s deputy for 10 years from 2004. But in 2014, Mujuru was purged from the party after Grace Mugabe accused her of plotting to overthrow, and even kill, her husband.
Mujuru now heads an opposition group, the National People’s Party, and toldNewsweek in 2016 that “nothing exists” between her and the president anymore. But Mujuru’s reputation has been tarnished by her proximity to Mugabe, and her deciding to run in the 2018 elections may split the opposition vote between her and Tsvangirai.
A pastor rather than a politician, Mawarire, 40, shot to prominence in 2016 by launching a protest movement—called #ThisFlag—that called for Zimbabwe’s deteriorating socioeconomic situation to be remedied and, ultimately, for Mugabe to be voted out. Mawarire’s activities saw him charged with subversion in 2016. After being freed, he fled to South Africa and the United States. He returned to Zimbabwe this summer, where he was again charged with subversion, but has pleaded not guilty.
Mawarire has been coy on whether his civil activism could morph into a political campaign. “I haven’t yet made the decision whether I’ll run in the elections or not,” he told Newsweek in June. And while the #ThisFlag campaign has captured the imagination of many urban Zimbabweans, it’s not clear whether Mawarire would have the appeal to convince those in rural parts of the country to vote for him.
The most realistic challenge to Grace Mugabe’s presidential ambitions could actually come from within the ruling party. Sekeramayi, 73, is a ZANU-PF stalwart who has been by Mugabe’s side since independence in 1980, taking charge of ministries including lands and rural resettlement, health, state intelligence and, presently, defense. He has also been a member of the ZANU-PF politburo—the party’s top brass—since 1980.
But Sekeramayi has a controversial record, most notably being in charge of the defense ministry at the height of the Gukurahundi massacres in the 1980s, in which more than 20,000 civilians in western Zimbabwe were killed by a unit of the country’s army. Given his background, Sekeramayi has strong support among the military—but the same was said of Mnangagwa, and it did not save the former vice-president from facing the ax. – NewsWeek