MARONDERA Zimbabwe (Reuters) - President Robert Mugabe’s wife accused senior figures in his ruling ZANU-PF on Monday of dividing the party by maneuvering to replace the 90-year-old Zimbabwean leader, and called on them to let him “finish his job”.
Mugabe has ruled the southern African nation since independence from Britain in 1980, and overwhelmingly won re-election last year in a vote denounced by his main rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, as a “huge fraud.”
Speculation is rife among both supporters and opponents of Mugabe that his health is failing - something he denies, raising worries about violent instability if he dies with the succession battle in ZANU-PF unresolved.
The quick rise of Grace Mugabe, 49, into the top ranks of ZANU-PF has fed speculation she could be angling to succeed her husband, and she has been using a countrywide tour to denounce what she called “the demon of factionalism” within the party.
While not mentioning names, many have interpreted her often cryptic attacks as directed at Vice President Joice Mujuru, who is involved in an open tussle with Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa to slide into Mugabe’s shoes.
On Thursday, Grace told supporters in Mujuru’s home province that factionalism had originated in the area and said the unnamed leader of this divisive trend should seek forgiveness from Mugabe or face removal.
Local media, including the state-owned Herald newspaper, were quick to name Mujuru as the target of her wrath.
At her last rally of the tour on Friday, Grace accused humiliated Ray Kaukonde, ZANU-PF’s chairman in Mashonaland East and a former business partner of Mujuru’s late husband, of being the errand boy of “this factional leader”.
“He is the one used in all this factionalism. You are doing it for one person who is high up there,” Grace told supporters at a stadium in Marondera, 70 km (40 miles) east of Harare.
“Factionalism should end, those who have ears should hear. I speak in riddles and those who interpret should do their job, I have used riddles to name you.”
Grace Mugabe also criticized private media for writing negative articles on her family, saying her husband had been ordained by God to lead and those jockeying to succeed him had no leadership qualities.
“Let’s leave our father to finish his job and respect him,” she said to cheers from the crowd.
Grace’s verbal attacks coincide with a push by officials aligned to Mnangagwa to change ZANU-PF’s constitution at a congress in December and allow Mugabe to appoint his deputies in the party as he does in government.
Under current rules, the party president and two deputies, one of which must be female, are considered elected once nominated by at least six of the country’s 10 regions.
In an editorial entitled “Pretty face of tyranny”, the weekly Independent newspaper said Grace was dividing the party further by siding with Mnangagwa’s camp. “Relentlessly raging like stormy seas, her emotional intensity and outbursts at rallies, together with chilling ferocity and threats...has left ZANU-PF in turmoil and the nation in shock,” it said.
Editing by Stella Mapenzauswa and Mark Heinrich