Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has announced the appointment of his controversial wife Grace to a key post within his ruling Zanu-PF party, News24 reports. This move is seen by critics as a way of positioning her to a role that would influence the first family's wishes in the electoral process.
Mugabe named his wife to a key committee that would be responsible for overseeing the running of general elections in 2018. The five-member committee, named the Elections Directorate, will be chaired by local government minister Savior Kasukuwere while other members are finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo and Zanu PF Youth League secretary Kudzanai Chipanga,
All the five were linked to a Zanu-PF faction calling itself "Generation 40" that is made up of young Turks and backing Grace to torpedo Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa's presidential ambitions. Mnangagwa was linked to a faction calling itself "Team Lacoste" that is angling to take over power when Mugabe eventually leaves office.
None of Mnangagwa's allies was named to the committee that was tasked with preparing the ruling party for the polls.
President's political partner
Mugabe would be facing his biggest challenge ever in elections if plans by his perennial rival former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change party and former vice president Joice Mujuru to coalesce ahead of next year's polls materialised.
Kasukuwere was quoted by the state-controlled Chronicle newspaper urging party members to start mobilising supporters ahead of the elections while Chombo called for party's faithful to shun factionalism that has fragmented the revolutionary party.
Said Kasukuwere: "The war is won by the councillors. Please go back to the people and mobilise them. The ball is in your court. Once a councillor wins then we know that the MP (Member of Parliament) has won as well as the president. It's your duty now to mobilise people. Let's start preparing for elections."
Mugabe's appointment of his wife to the ruling party's elections directorate was seen by political analyst Vivid Gwede as part of the nonagenarian's plans to give her influence in the ruling party.
"This is also a way of the president to have a trusted person to be his eyes and ears as well as his proxy in the elections directorate. Apart from being his life partner and wife, the First Lady has lately become the president's political partner. The elections directorate itself probably shows us who the president trusts in his quest to retain political power; given that Mnangagwa has been the president's election ally, it could be surmised that a reconfiguration of that relationship is afoot," said Gwede.
"The First Family appears to be trying to seek an independent mandate in the forthcoming elections which will allow it more control of the party to wring any changes they wish against those angling to succeed him especially in the Lacoste faction."
Gwede ruled out chances that Grace was angling to succeed her 93 year-old husband, at least for now.
"This (Grace's appointment) does not mean that the First Lady is angling to succeed Mugabe, but that they want to have influence on the succession and for that process to happen on the First Family's terms. With its position closer to the dynamics and involvement in them, G40 appears to be enjoying a notable stake in the succession plans," added Gwede.
This came at a time when the First Lady recently urged President Mugabe to appoint a woman as one of his deputies before she publicly lashed out at Mnangagwa for interacting with her husband's critics who were expelled from the ruling party. Some political commentators said by doing this, Grace was clearing her way to lead the ruling party when her husband leaves office or becomes incapacitated.
But another analyst Rashweat Mukundu said Grace's appointment was based on her leadership of the ruling party's Women's League.
"Grace Mugabe has become a major political player that cannot be ignored. Balance can be made; let's remember that the factions are not officially recognised in Zanu-PF and none of the leaders, either appointed or disappointed by the make-up of the committee, can argue for factional balance because in real terms factions are not official or formal Zanu-PF structures," said Mukundu.
Both the First Lady and Mnangagwa have publicly denied that they were harbouring presidential ambitions although their differences have cascaded down to the ruling party's structures.