, HARERE, October 17- President Robert Mugabe’s increasingly powerful wife Grace has threatened Zimbabwe’s vice president with expulsion from the ruling party, throwing a fierce succession battle into the open.
“I told the President that if you don’t dump that faction leader we will dump her ourselves,” Grace Mugabe said on the campaign trail, referring to Vice President and one time Mugabe heir apparent Joice Mujuru.
Mujuru and powerful Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa — who in the past controlled the secret police and military — are seen as the leading contenders to replace 90 year old Robert Mugabe when he steps down or dies.
But Grace Mugabe’s recent entry into politics, swift rise to power within the ruling ZANU-PF and ferocious attacks on Mujuru, have raised the prospect that the vice president’s star is waning.
It has also raised speculation that Mugabe could be grooming his wife to take over when he dies.
“We campaigned for you (Mujuru) not only last year, but over the years, but now it is war because I have been nominated,” said Grace Mugabe, 49, who is set to become head of ZANU-PF’s influential women’s league.
“I do not think anything good would come out if I mobilise people to go in the streets and dump you,” she was quoted as saying by state media on Friday.
Grace Mugabe accused Mujuru — the widow of the late liberation war army commander Solomon Mujuru — of leading a faction vying for power, and demanded she apologise.
“You cannot continue denying that you lead a faction every day. Wherever you are, go together with your cronies, go and apologise before it is too late because the President is also fed up with these issues,” Grace Mugabe said at a rally in Bindura, north east of the capital Harare.
Her comments would appear to be an opening gambit in the end game to succeed her husband.
ZANU-PF will hold a crunch elective congress in December.
Robert Mugabe is expected to be confirmed as the party’s leader, but the fight for positions on the powerful politburo could be decisive.
Mugabe has been in power since 1980 and has long avoided appointing a successor.
– Diamonds are not forever –
Grace Mugabe has also accused Mujuru of spreading rumours about her involvement in Zimbabwe’s lucrative diamond trade.
Although racked by seemingly interminable economic crisis, Zimbabwe is home to one of the world’s largest diamond fields.
Many of the proceeds are thought to bypass state coffers straight into the pockets of connected politicians and the military.
The Mujuru family owns River Ranch diamond mine in southern Zimbabwe close to the border with South Africa.
“The person leading factions is the same person who accuses me of being involved in diamond deals, yet it is them that own a diamond mine,” Grace Mugabe said.
“That person also moves around saying I want to acquire money using unscrupulous means when it is known that I started my business from scratch.”
Uncertainty over Mugabe’s succession and concern over his age and failing health have divided the government and stalled growth in the ailing economy, with investors adopting a wait and see attitude.