Graceland

Everyone knows that Graceland was the name given to the home of a famous American entertainer who has become a fantasy figure in the States. If we are not careful Zimbabwe could well become known as Graceland with all the connotations that are involved.

Since her elevation at the Women’s League Conference of Zanu PF to the lofty heights of future league leader, she has taken off like a rocket – barn storming the country in “Air Force 1” (a blue helicopter) accompanied by an entourage that her husband might command. Wherever she has landed she has caused commotion and controversy. Without any regard to protocol, she has attacked just about everybody in sight.

People attending her rallies who attempted to leave have been told by armed men to stay where they were. Where dissent was allowed she belittled those who walked out on her speeches. It is not a pleasant spectacle and the question must be posed, what does this all mean and where is the ship of State going?

It is clear that her entry to politics was carefully engineered. Whoever was responsible (the Crocodile is mooted), it was smooth and swift. The present leader stepped aside and she was accepted by acclaim (no secret balloting). She has clearly taken this to mean that she is being admitted to the upper echelons of leadership in the Party and I am sure she has overstepped the mark as far as her sponsors are concerned.

Despite her multiple academic qualifications – all dubious, she is not known for her intellect. She is known for lavish parties, shopping expeditions and avarice. When she decided to go into business, she commandeered several top commercial farms in the fertile Mazoe Valley, developed a dairy with no expense spared and created an expensive school complex.

I knew the first Mrs. Mugabe, Sally quite well and thought very highly of her. I got to know her brother and family well and my daughter used to spend time with Sally’s niece in Harare. A close friend of mine also knew Sally well and worked closely with her on many issues. She was a real lady and I think she moderated her husband’s behavior and actions while she was alive. When she died Mr. Mugabe lost much more than a wife and partner, she was his compass and conscience.

Grace was a junior typist/secretary in the President’s Office. She spotted the opportunity presented by Sally’s illness and subsequent death and became his mistress even while Sally was dying. Already married, she dumped her husband who was then banished to Beijing on attachment before being divorced and the Catholic Church was then coerced into marrying the pair in what has really been an unholy alliance.

The parallels of Grace Mugabe’s elevation to that of the third and last wife of Mao in China are considerable; including now her desire to assume the mantle of President in 2015 – before or after her husband’s demise. She knows time is not on her side and she wants to move while her husband still holds constitutional power and has the capacity to effect succession.

The entry of Grace into the struggle for succession in Zimbabwe has complicated matters in the country enormously. She now sits on the bench with half a dozen other contenders, each of whom thinks that they deserve the job and can manage the office best. The lineup is not a pretty one – several are guilty of fraud and corruption on a massive scale, several have blood and murder on their CV’s, few have really distinguished themselves either in society, or business or government.

If the intention of those who are behind her elevation was to attack the political base of the Vice President, Mrs. Mujuru, then she is doing a splendid job. Yesterday, in a clear statement directed at the VP, Grace said in a speech at Bindura – the long term base of the Mujuru clan, that “she would be dragged in the streets and her body eaten by vultures with no one to help her”. Tough stuff, burning bridges stuff, no going back.

To me the main message in all of this is the decline in the political power and influence of Mr. Mugabe. The deterioration in the past year has been noticeable and has resulted in political control of the center slipping out of his hands. The mavericks are having a great time and their activities are now doing serious damage to what is left of our economy.

While the Ministry of Finance and even the World Bank and the IMF maintain the fiction that we are still seeing some growth in the economy, the experience of the business community is not so complacent. This week a statement from Delta Corporation that clear beer sales are down 29 percent is a very serious indicator of just how bad things are. My own prediction for the current year is for a decline in GDP of not less than 5 percent.

With deflation continuing at about 2 percent this is a very serious situation. The stock market has continued to fall, the bank crisis shows no signs of abating and investment is frozen in its tracks. Without the hidden boost of revenues from the diamond mines at Marange, the level of imports is declining and this is further exacerbating the situation in the domestic economy. The financial stress on everyone is palpable.

What the Chinese premier advised when he met Mr. Mugabe in Beijing a few weeks ago was that he should “deal” with the succession issue by administrative and not democratic means and he nudged the President towards the Minister of Justice, Mnangagwa. Secondly he should repair his relations with the West and thirdly, he should put his economic house in order by strategic policy reform.

Instead Mr. Mugabe has tried to use cold war tactics and drawn in the Russians; he has allowed the political chaos in his Party to continue and even deepen and shows no signs of any willingness to put his economic house in order. Instead of stabilizing the situation he has allowed the economic, social and political crisis to deepen.

Zimbabwe is unlikely to become Graceland and in the process Grace may become the first casualty. She will not be mourned.

Eddie Cross
Harare October 17th 2014