Grace Mugabe has said her husband Robert Mugabe may choose her as his successor when the 91-year-old Zimbabwean leader decides to leave office.
“I cannot be counted out,” Grace, 50, told a rally Friday in Masvingo province. “President Mugabe has the prerogative of choosing his successor.”
Her statement appeared to contradict remarks she made at a Nov. 20 political rally that she had no presidential ambitions. The southern African nation is scheduled to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in 2018.
Known by her critics as the “First Shopper” and “Gucci Grace,” for what they say is her extravagant lifestyle, Grace Mugabe has built support among a group of senior ruling party officials known as Generation-40 because most of them are in their 40s and played no role in Zimbabwe’s war for independence.
Her main adversary in a run for the top job is the vice president and deputy leader of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who previously served as state security and defence minister.
“We can’t afford to have a leader who isn’t popular or we will lose elections,” Grace said. “Mugabe is an old man at 91 and we’ll be carrying him in a wheelbarrow to address people because he is still the best person to lead the country.”
Doubts about Mugabe’s competence increased in September when he read the wrong speech at the opening of parliament without realising he had delivered the same address a few weeks earlier.
While Zimbabwe’s economy is stagnating, with slumping consumer demand pushing the country into deflation and 83% of government expenditure going on civil servant wages, “given the level of factionalism in ZANU-PF, there is no force strong enough to oust him,” Mark Rosenberg, Africa director at New York-based Eurasia Group, said by phone at that time from Johannesburg. “If he doesn’t die in office and he steps down beforehand, he will try to control the process as much as possible and will probably succeed.”
The southern African nation faces its worst economic crisis since its virtual collapse in 2008, when inflation soared to 500 billion percent, prompting the government to abandon its currency in favour of the use of foreign exchange, including the U.S. dollar, in early 2009.
City residents are now subjected to power cuts between 4 a.m. and 10 p.m. on an almost daily basis and revenue of companies ranging from fast food outlet operators to beer-makers and sausage producers has slumped, deepening deflation which has now persisted for 11 consecutive months.
Mugabe is increasingly frail, often needing help to walk. Should he realise his frailty, analysts say, he may decide to empower his wife’s G-40 allies, which would still bolster her chances of succeeding her husband.
The lifestyles of the group, which include mansions and sports cars, make them unpopular in a nation where about 72.3% of the people live on less than $1.25 a day, according to the United Nations Development Programme.
For her part, beyond her husband, Grace must win over the military, a task complicated by the fact that she has no struggle credentials. The military won’t readily contradict Mugabe while he’s alive.