At a church meeting last week in Harare, Zimbabwe's verdant capital city, Grace Mugabe, 52, made a request of her nonagenarian husband Robert, who has run the country for the past 37 years.
“I say to Mugabe, you should … leave me to take over your post. Have no fear,” she said. “If you want to give me the job, give it to me freely.”
Mugabe was — until an apparent coup today, a day that will go down in Zimbabwean history — the world's oldest leader.
He managed to stay in power for almost four decades thanks to an extraordinary amassing of executive authorities, brutal crackdowns on opposition groups and ethnic minorities, and electoral fraud, but also an abiding respect among much of his country's people and armed forces in particular for his role in the guerrilla war that overthrew oppressive white rule in the late 1970s.
Grace Mugabe does not command that respect, nor is she seen as an heir to her husband's anti-colonial revolution.
That heir apparent is Emmerson Mnangagwa, until last week the Vice President of Zimbabwe.
Of Mnangagwa, Grace Mugabe said last week: “The snake must be hit on the head.” A day later, her husband unceremoniously dismissed him, forcing him into exile.
It now seems Grace Mugabe's impatience to sideline Mnangagwa was a calamitous miscalculation.
Zimbabwe's security forces, long loyal to Robert Mugabe, have made it clear through their takeover that they find the possibility of a Mugabe dynasty, led by Grace, to be repulsive.
After taking charge of the country's state broadcaster, Maj. Gen. Sibusiso Moyo, chief of staff logistics, made a reference on live television many believed was aimed at Grace Mugabe.
“We are only targeting criminals around [President Mugabe] who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice,” said Moyo. “As soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy.”
Grace Mugabe has little public support, let alone support from the real kingmakers: the security apparatus.
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