Zimbabwe First Lady, Grace Mugabe, on Wednesday said President Robert Mugabe was irreplaceable and would continue to lead the Southern African country even from his grave.
Grace was addressing thousands of Zanu PF supporters gathered in Harare for the much touted one million man march organized by the youth wing in support of Mugabe’s candidature in the 2018 presidential elections.
In a short, but animated speech to tens of thousands of ruling party supporters at the gathering, Grace quoted from the Bible, saying God had set Mugabe apart, as a “prophet to the nations”.
“The Bible tells us in Jeremiah chapter 5 verse 1: ‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations’,” she said, punctuating her speech with some gospel music.
“President Mugabe is an unparalleled leader and because you have stuck to principle even in the face of sanctions, your people now believe you. We want you to remain our leader.”
Grace – who has previously said she would either push her 92-year-old husband to work in a wheelbarrow or that a special wheelchair be designed for him – then went a step further to suggest he should continue ruling even after his death.
“We want you to lead this country from your grave, while you lie at the National Heroes’ Acre,” she said to a combination of shock and ululations from the crowd, drawn from across the country to show solidarity with Mugabe.
Youth leader, Kudzai Chipanga took the fawning a notch higher, shouting that Mugabe should lead “till death do us part”.
For his part, Mugabe told those asking him to retire to “go hang”.
“The West want me to retire and the MDC-T as well, but we ask if this is goodwill,” he said.
“Do they really want me to go and rest or they are scared? Go and tell them I am not going anywhere. If the people say go, I will, but as long as I still feel strong enough and able to deliver, I will be here.”
Mugabe lashed out at party leaders fanning factionalism and seeking positions, describing the practice as treasonous.
“The groups that we hear are in the party, these are treasonous. That is a culture that is alien to Zanu PF and we have no idea where it is coming from,” he said.
“It must stop. There should never be these little groups and never listen to a leader who wants to push personal agendas.
“Come with your criticism, with your grievances into the party and let us openly discuss them. Even war veterans, they must not be seen to push a different political agenda from outside the structures of the party. We do not want that nonsense.”
Mugabe projected himself as a reluctant leader, who has always listened to the voice of the people and was literally forced onto the presidency.
“When we joined the party, we never asked for positions. We had to make do with what was assigned to us from the National Democratic Party, where I served as publicity secretary, Zapu the same, before Zanu was formed and I was appointed secretary-general,” he said.
“After the death of (former Zanu national chairman, Herbert) Chitepo and (Ndabaningi) Sithole was vacillating, I was asked to lead the party in Mozambique, but again I insisted that the people must choose their leaders. Until the Chimoio congress in 1977, we asked the likes of (Vice-President Emmerson) Mnangagwa and (Defence minister Sydney) Sekeramayi to join us and we gave them positions.
“We did not campaign for any position or go to traditional healers like some people do now.”
Vicious factional fights continue to gnaw at Zanu PF’s foundations, as senior party leaders look beyond Mugabe, who is battling old age and failing health.
Mnangagwa is considered by many as the frontrunner to succeed Mugabe, but a faction reportedly loyal to Grace is said to burning the midnight oil to torpedo his ambitions.