As a Zimbabwean military helicopter usually reserved for President Robert Mugabe arrived at a ruling party rally, out stepped his wife Grace into an election-campaign atmosphere.
While Zimbabwe isn’t due to hold its next vote for three years, Grace’s appearance at the Oct. 14 rally in the northeastern town of Rushinga and others around the country is building her brand as a serious contender to replace her 91-year-old husband when he eventually leaves office, after ruling since 1980.
“Grace Mugabe is certainly maneuvering to succeed her husband,” Robert Besseling, principal Africa analyst at IHS Country Risk, said by e-mail from Johannesburg on Oct. 19. “She is likely to be one of the very few people to be aware of her husband’s intentions and his health situation. Once Mugabe steps down or dies in office, Grace Mugabe will have the advantage of being able to act quickly to secure her succession.”
The state-controlled Herald newspaper described Grace Mugabe as a unifying force within the country, which is grappling with its worst economic crisis since 2008, when inflation soared to 500 billion percent. City residents experience power cuts on a near-daily basis, and 10 consecutive months of deflation have driven scores of manufacturers out of business. Industries ranging from platinum to tobacco are stagnating, while the United Nations is providing food aid to about 1.5 million people.