Mugabe’s wife to lead Zanu-PF women’s wing

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iol afr aug 16 Grace Mugabe REUTERS File photo: Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace wave to supporters and guests during celebrations to mark his 90th birthday in Marondera.

Harare - The wife of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe was on Friday chosen to lead the ruling party's powerful women's wing, catapulting her into active politics and adding new intrigue to the battle to succeed the 90-year-old strongman.

The nomination of 49-year-old Grace Mugabe as the “sole” candidate for the position of the national secretary of the Zanu-PF women's league was endorsed by a conference in Harare.

The position is sure to be confirmed at the party's elective congress in December.

“I feel very much overwhelmed” by the nomination, she told some 3 000 delegates who backed her.

Her new position will propel her into the Zanu-PF party's supreme decision-making body, the politburo.

As the national secretary of the party's women wing, the former presidential typist will sit in the Zanu-PF inner cabinet and play an active role in the faction-riven battle to succeed her husband, who took power in 1980 on Zimbabwe's independence from Britain.

But the women's meeting also decided that the veteran ruler should stand as the party's presidential candidate in 2018 elections, by which time Mugabe will be 94.

The move to back Africa's oldest leader, as the “sole” candidate for the next national vote will set the tone for the December crucial party congress and it comes amid speculation by analysts that a Mugabe dynasty could be in the making.

During his 34-year rule Mugabe has studiously avoided naming a successor, yet he has expressed his personal worries over the absence of a suitable successor.

Factions led by Vice President Joice Mujuru and Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa have in recent years been jockeying for the presidential post, dividing the party and raising concern over its future without Mugabe.

Haggling between the two factions cost the party dearly in the 2008 elections when Morgan Tsvangirai's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) won the majority of parliamentary seats.

Mugabe loyalists said the move to endorse Grace Mugabe as head of the women's wing was aimed at bridging the divisions threatening to tear Zanu-PF apart.

She expressed the hope that “factionalism will come to an end.”

Grace Mugabe has previously taken a back seat in the Zanu-PF drama, keeping herself busy with charity work and lately with running businesses, including a dairy farm.

Uncertainty over Mugabe's succession and concerns about his age and deteriorating health have divided the government and stalled growth in the ailing economy, with investors adopting a wait and see attitude. - Sapa-AFP



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