This is the question that the New York Times asks in today’s edition. The paper says Grace Mugabe, known mostly for her lavish overseas shopping trips until she entered politics just two years ago, has emerged as one of the main actors in the fierce maneuvering to succeed her husband.
“She is, to many people, the real power behind the throne, vowing to keep her husband in office until his death while she consolidates her support,” the Times says.
Grace recently said that she was “already the president,” planning and doing everything with her husband.
But the paper goes on: “Whether the first lady’s power survives her husband’s death is unclear. She is reported to head one of the two competing factions inside ZANU-PF, but is she its leader, or just a useful puppet for veteran survivors of Zimbabwean politics?
“After her husband dies, will she hop on a plane for Dubai or elsewhere in Asia, where she and her children have established homes? The Mugabes are thought to have more than $1 billion invested outside Zimbabwe, according to an American diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks.
“But if she succeeds in grabbing power, it would most likely be a continuation of her husband’s government. Changes critical to reviving Zimbabwe’s crumpled economy, including land reform, are thought politically impossible under Mr. Mugabe and would remain so under Ms. Mugabe, whose legitimacy derives from her husband’s legacy. Her elevation could also intensify existing tensions in Zimbabwe’s small political class by upsetting Mr. Mugabe’s lieutenants, many of whom have been waiting decades to take over.”
According to the Times, Grace Mugabe has treated potential rivals without mercy. She expelled from ZANU-PF a vice president and war hero, Joice Mujuru, by accusing her of engaging in treason, practicing witchcraft and wearing short skirts. She also initiated a fierce attack against another vice president and leader of a rival faction, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Supporters of Mnangagwa says Grace is being used by more experienced politicians to undermine their candidate.
“She’s soft and inexperienced,” said Douglas Mahiya, spokesman of the National Liberation War Veterans Association, which supports Mnangagwa. “Even if she becomes president, it will be easier for these people to push her aside and take over.”