A new political force on the rise in Zim
By the time the sun’s first rays shot across the small town of Gwanda and kissed the well-manicured lawns of Pelandaba Stadium in the heart of Jahunda Township on October 13, Sinini Ndlovu had already pegged her small piece of real estate – her vantage point from which she would watch the day’s events.
Zanu-PF’s provincial leadership had implored the party’s supporters to arrive early for a date with Zimbabwe’s person of the moment – First Lady Grace Mugabe.
But by the time the First Lady waltzed into the small football stadium which comes into view at the end of a dirt road some 4km from the town centre, Ndlovu – a mother of four from Filabusi – was almost becoming disoriented in the sweltering heat.
But the thought of leaving her front row position and returning home before the First Lady’s arrival at 12:15 did not cross her mind.
“I was here when President Mugabe came to campaign in July last year. And when I heard the First Lady was coming, I wanted to be here again. She’s a woman like me and her struggles are mine,” explained Ndlovu, a subsistence farmer.
As the First Lady, accompanied by leaders of the Women’s League, stepped out of her car to begin a long walk greeting supporters who had waited patiently for her, Ndlovu appeared to get a sudden injection of adrenalin as she joined the singing throng. “Nxa umama ekhona lapha konke kulungile (When mother is here everything is fine),” goes the song.
Before the gathered thousands was the 49-year-old wife of the Zanu-PF leader, breaking through the glass ceiling of politics in her sixth rally on a nationwide tour.
She is due to assume the leadership of the Women’s League at the Zanu-PF congress in December, but the energy of her rallies has political scientists scratching their heads, wondering if they are witnessing the birth of the next big star in Zimbabwean politics.
The First Lady landed at the police Matabeleland South provincial headquarters aboard an Air Force helicopter. She held meetings with the Women’s League and was then driven the short distance to the stadium in a convoy.
She was welcomed with song and dance by the Women’s League in their colourful outfits emblazoned with President Mugabe’s face. Abigail Damasane, the mistress of ceremonies, kept the mood electric.
Then, as the First Lady took her seat under a small tent, it was time for the endorsements and solidarity messages: they came thick and fast. Members of the Youth League, both provincial and national, have emerged as some of the First Lady’s fiercest backers.
They took their turns behind the microphone, denouncing factionalism. “Phansi leGamatox (Down with Gamatox)!” a few of them chanted, in apparent reference to the party’s secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa, who once threatened to feed the banned pesticide to fellow Politburo member, Professor Jonathan Moyo.
He now faces allegations of instigating youths to disrupt the First Lady’s rally in Manicaland.
The Matabeleland South provincial Women’s League chairperson, Alice Dube, described the First Lady as a “Worker, Organiser, Manager, Advisor and Nurse” — the first letters taken together forming the word ‘woman’.
Outgoing Women’s League boss, Oppah Muchinguri, said the First Lady was a special advisor to the President who helped in making sure that the rights of women were respected in the Constitution and also championed proportional representation that benefitted women.
She said the First Lady, who donated 10 tonnes of meal-meal, 10 tonnes seed maize and presented food hampers to traditional chiefs, was going around listening to people’s grievances.
Chief Ndube (Nonhlanhla Ndube) of Filabusi, representing the traditional leaders, had earlier described the First Lady as “indlovukazi” (queen).
Said Muchinguri: “I want to thank the Lord that this province is the sixth we’ve visited to meet with you, led by guest of honour Dr Grace Mugabe. She came to congratulate you about winning last year (July 31 harmonised elections) and thanking you for elevating her to lead all the women in Zimbabwe.
“We want to give our guest of honour time to talk because she asked that after being elevated, with supersonic speed, she has no time to waste. She’s going to listen to the grievances from the masses. You saw the youth, women, ‘mujibhas’, ‘chimbwidos’ (liberation war collaborators) and chiefs came to support her to ensure that we’re united.”
Muchinguri also spoke of a woman who dutifully stood behind her husband, but was now also spreading her wings.
The First Lady would pick up on this theme, giving an example of how she stood with the Zanu-PF leader in testing times. When others could have wavered, she led from the front.
“When land reform started, some people were gullible. They were being told that it’s just a gimmick by Mugabe. It was said by the media that he was maintaining his grip on power by saying the land is ours take it,” she said.
“When I saw that people might think it’s a gimmick, I rushed to take land by myself. I took the farm to use since baba was spearheading the programme. I said to give the people the confidence they require, we also need to go and take the land to show that it was not a gimmick.”
The First Lady pressed all the right buttons with the gathered mums. Women’s names should also be listed on title deeds, she said. Widows must be legally protected from property-grabbing in-laws, she demanded. Every household would receive seed and fertiliser under the Presidential Inputs Scheme in time for the planting season next month, she promised.
It is no secret that the First Lady has started her political walk at a polarised time in Zanu-PF, when every action or inaction is read through the prism of factionalism.
But for someone who has spent most of her married life in the shadow of her better-known and politically-suave husband, the First Lady was not doing too much harm to her rising political stock. If many appreciate her for anything, it is her forthrightness. She has thrown political correctness out of the window, publicly censuring some party bigwigs who until her arrival considered themselves sacred cows. “Those factional fights, it’s about regime change. Those who’re doing that, stop!” she thundered. Some have said the stampede by party organs to endorse her had a touch of the bandwagon effect. Scratch that, it’s now a train. At her rallies, top party leaders — including a Cabinet ministers — are coming to support her crusade.
Senior party officials are joining her swelling ranks as well. – Chronicle