Zimbabwe’s first executive president Robert Mugabe resigned on Tuesday under tremendous pressure and threats that he would be exposed for his brutality and corruption. He is even reported to have sacrificed his wife to go into exile so that he could remain in power. But all the blame for Mugabe’s misdeeds has been shifted to his wife, Grace. She made terrible blunders, became too ambitious and arrogant. Tania Branigan of the Guardian draws comparisons between Grace and China’s former First Lady Jiang Qing.
They say that history does not repeat itself, but it rhymes. Zimbabwe’s turmoil has had striking, almost uncanny echoes of China’s more than four decades ago.
A charismatic figure revered for leading the struggle for liberation, yet reviled for his crimes once in power, is nearing the end of his long life, and evidently frail.
The military and his party peers are increasingly jittery about their future. And at the heart of the struggle is the rise of his much younger, very ambitious wife.
Robert Mugabe has been forced out at 93, after he appeared to be moving to secure his wife’s position.
Mao Zedong’s grip remained tight when he died at 82. But his wife, Jiang Qing (“Madame Mao”), lost the ensuing power struggle and was put on trial – as some say Grace Mugabe may be.
When the head of the war veterans’ association compared the Mugabes to the Chinese couple on Tuesday, he was only the latest of many Zimbabweans to do so.
People there know the history well because of the long-term ties. Beijing was an early ally of Mugabe, but its interests are pragmatic, not ideological or personal.
It wants stability and a friendly regime in Harare. That the president-in-waiting, Emmerson Mnangagwa, is a known quantity, having trained in China, is a bonus. And the men in Beijing have never seemed comfortable with female leaders.
Grace, like Jiang, came to the political forefront relatively late after marriage, and developed a young party clique around her: Jiang’s Gang of Four played a leading role in fomenting the devastating Cultural Revolution, while Grace fostered the G40, or Generation 40, grouping.
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