Mugabe’s Wife ‘Gucci Grace’ Said to Spark Party Split

President Robert Mugabe’s wife Grace is at the heart of the deepening split in the party that has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, three members of the party’s highest decision-making body said.

Grace Mugabe, 49, called on Vice President Joice Mujuru to resign and indicated that she may seek to succeed her 90-year-old husband when she told a rally on Oct. 23, “Some say I want to be president. Why not? Am I not Zimbabwean, too?”

Grace Mugabe is backed by Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, who’s frequently named as a potential successor to Mugabe, said the members of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front politburo. They asked not to be identified because the matter hasn’t been commented on officially by the party. Mujuru, 59, is supported by Didymus Mutasa, Zanu-PF’s secretary for administration.

“It’s obvious that the two factions can’t coexist within the party without being compelled to by Mugabe,” Alex Magaisa, a Zimbabwean constitutional lawyer said by phone from Canterbury, U.K. “Either way, it’s safe to say Zanu-PF will never be the same again.”

Zanu, as the party was known before independence, last suffered a major split in 1975, when guerrilla commanders replaced the party founder, Ndabaningi Sithole, with Mugabe.

A one-time secretary to the president who was married to a former air force pilot and Beijing-based diplomat, Grace Marufu wedded Mugabe in 1996. They have three children. Following her nomination as the head of Zanu-PF Women’s League in August, she’s expected to fill the post after a party congress ratifies the decision in December.

Among Zimbabweans who criticize what they describe as her extravagant lifestyle, Grace Mugabe is known as “Gucci Grace” and “Dis Grace.”

‘The Crocodile’

Besides backing from Mnangagwa, a former spy chief known as “The crocodile,” Grace Mugabe also enjoys support from Minister of Environment Saviour Kasukuwere, former central bank governor Gideon Gono and Zanu-PF lawmaker, Joseph Chinotimba, who led the invasions of mainly white-owned farms that started in 2000 and sparked an almost decade-long economic collapse.

“Although she’s not a frontrunner to succeed her husband, her support could be decisive in deciding which faction emerges on top,” said Mike Davies, a political analyst with Cape Town-based Kigoda Consulting. “Her entrance into politics has further complicated the succession issue in Zimbabwe which remains the key political risk for investors.”

Mujuru fought in the independence war under the nom de guerre Teurai Ropa, or “spill blood” in the Shona language, and her late husband, Solomon, was the top commander of the guerrilla forces. She is also backed by Ray Kaukonde, party chairman for Mashonaland East province, and Dzikamai Mavhaire, Zanu’s secretary for labor.

Husband’s Death

Solomon Mujuru’s death in 2011 intensified tensions in the party after his body was found burned in his farmhouse in the town of Beatrice, 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Harare, the capital. His death was seen as suspicious by some Zanu-PF officials including Joice because he was in a one-story building and was guarded by three policemen. No report on the investigation into the incident has been published.

At the Oct. 23 rally of independence war veterans, Grace Mugabe unleashed an unprecedented attack on Mujuru.

“There are plenty of people who can run this country, not Mujuru,” she said. “We cannot go back to where we were before independence. People who support Mujuru may do so, but Zimbabwe has one leader who has one wife.”

Opposition Parties

Grace Mugabe has accused Mujuru of being complicit in the formation of opposition parties such as the Movement for Democratic Change and the New Dawn Party, founded by a former minister from the ruling party. The state-controlled Sunday Mail said Oct. 26 that Mujuru had conspired with a “CIA spy” since 2008 to oust Mugabe through a vote of no confidence at the party’s congress and in parliament.

“If it’s President Mugabe who allowed Grace to enter the political arena, then he should expect rebellion within the party,” Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director Pedzisai Ruhanya said by phone from Harare. “It’s clear that Mujuru’s followers won’t allow such political humiliation for too long unless Mugabe intervenes.”

Grace Mugabe’s comments have also drawn criticism from veterans of the independence war.

“We won’t tolerate a bedroom coup,” Jabulani Sibanda, chairman of the Zimbabwe National War Veterans’ Association, said by phone from Harare. “All people should stand up against insults to the vice president.”

Signs of splits in the party have been apparent for months. At the June funeral of veteran Zanu-PF spokesman Nathan Shamuyarira, President Mugabe said “weevils” were attempting to sow division.

Eradicate ‘Factionalism’

Then Mutasa, also Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, threatened to use “Gamatox,” an insecticide, to eradicate “factionalism.”

Mnangagwa said he opposed any party divisions.

“We are 100 percent behind President Mugabe and want him to remain as president for as long as he is able,” he said in a phone interview. “We need unity, we need to cast out divisions in the party.”

Five calls to Zanu-PF headquarters seeking comment weren’t answered. Calls to the mobile phone of Mugabe’s spokesman, George Charamba, weren’t answered.

Zimbabwe’s newspapers continue to carry extensive coverage, and divided opinion, on the new and suddenly open battle for succession within Zanu-PF.

“It’s impossible to say if Grace Mugabe’s comments have Robert Mugabe’s blessing,” David Moore, an independent political analyst who has worked at the University of Johannesburg as a professor of development studies, said by phone from Cape Town. “It’s possible the genie has come out the bottle and she has her own agenda.”

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