Robert Mugabe asks ‘Gucci Grace’ to step back from succession race

Robert Mugabe asks ‘Gucci Grace’ to step back from succession race

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ZIMBABWEAN President Robert Mugabe has moved to rein in his wife’s ambition to succeed him, after the country’s intelligence chief warned that her campaign may stoke political violence and opposition from within the military, three members of the ruling party’s politburo said.

Mugabe asked his wife Grace to tone down her public criticism of veterans of Zimbabwe’s independence war, who have supported the president since he took power in 1980, and back her main rival, deputy president Emmerson Mnangagwa, according to the politburo members, who asked not to be named because they are not authorised to speak publicly on the matter.

While Mugabe, 93, is Zanu (PF)’s presidential candidate for elections due next year, he has grown increasingly frail and may not be able to see out another five-year term.

The intensifying battle over succession comes at a time when Zimbabwe, once one of Africa’s richest countries, faces deepening unrest over widespread unemployment, the collapse of basic services and the need of about 4-million people, more than a quarter of the population, for emergency food rations.

‘Control of the military and the security apparatus is a key factor in deciding who holds the reins politically,’ Showers Mawowa, deputy director of the Southern African Liaison Office, a civil rights group, told Bloomberg by phone from Pretoria last week. ‘As things stand, it seems like Mnangagwa has the upper hand.’

The warning to Mugabe about rising anger among the war veterans and the threat of unrest came from Happyton Bonongwe, who heads the Central Intelligence Organisation, the politburo members said.

He also told the Joint Operations Command, a group of senior military and intelligence officers who support Mnangagwa, that serving troops oppose a faction of younger party officials known as Generation-40 that backs Grace Mugabe, whom critics call ‘Gucci Grace’ for her allegedly extravagant lifestyle.

Bonongwe also said Zanu (PF) must mend relations with the war veterans, according to the party members.

The Central Intelligence Organisation does not answer questions from the press as a matter of policy, said an official at its headquarters who declined to give his name.

While the veterans accused the president of mismanaging the country and denounced him in July last year, they recanted last month following an intervention by Bonongwe and the military chiefs.

The National Liberation War Veterans Association view Grace’s G-40 faction as ‘charlatans’, its leader, Chris Mutsvanga, said in an interview.

Mnangagwa, a former spy chief who played a key role in the independence struggle and was jailed during the war against the white-minority regime of Rhodesia, has previously denied that he leads a faction or desires to be president. He did not answer calls to his office.

Mugabe opposes the faction fighting, saying at a June 2 rally outside Harare that it was confusing the electorate and damaging the party’s chances against a newly formed opposition coalition led by former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

‘The president has condemned factionalism across the board many times,’ Zanu (PF) chief spokesman Simon Khaya Moyo said.

Yet some analysts, such as Ibbo Mandaza, executive chairman of the Harare-based Southern African Political Economy Series Trust, believe the faction fighting plays into Mugabe’s hands, making it easier for him to retain power.

‘Mugabe thrives on chaos and confusion,’ Mandaza told Bloomberg in Harare.

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