Harare, Zimbabwe | AFP | President Robert Mugabe’s wife Thursday urged her 93-year-old husband to name his chosen successor, fuelling renewed speculation about the race to take over from the world’s oldest national leader.
Mugabe has always refused to publicly reveal his favoured heir, but Grace Mugabe — who is seen by some as a potential candidate — called for an end to the uncertainty.
“President, don’t be afraid. Tell us who is your choice, which horse we should back,” she told a meeting of the women’s league of the ruling ZANU-PF party.
“If you tell us the horse to back, we will rise in our numbers and openly support that horse. Why should our horse be concealed?” she said in a speech switching between English and local language Shona.
“I live with this elder. He has wisdom. He is not talkative but he knows what he wants,” she said, adding “Mark my words, his word will be final.”
President Mugabe appears to be in increasingly fragile health, but has said he will stand in elections next year that could see him remain in power until aged nearly 100.
He has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from British colonial rule in 1980.
The succession race is seen as between Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa and a group called “Generation 40” or “G40” because its members are generally younger, which reportedly has Grace’s backing.
– Divided party –
Mugabe has repeatedly denounced indiscipline among party members, who are bitterly divided over who should succeed him and whether he should retire.
Grace, 52, has previously denied harbouring ambitions to take over from her husband, but at other times has said she would be prepared to serve in any political position.
She has taken on a larger public role in recent years, speaking regularly at meetings drumming up support for the president and also heading the ZANU-PF women’s league.
“I always argue with him and say ‘You have a role, you have a right to be part of the process to say who will take over the seat’,” she said in Thursday’s speech in Harare.
In 2014, Grace led a campaign to expel former vice-president Joice Mujuru who had been seen as a possible successor to Mugabe.
The president returned two weeks ago from a trip to Singapore for medical treatment.
In speeches this year he has often slurred his words, mumbled and paused for lengthy periods.
His reign has been marked by repression of dissent, mass emigration, vote-rigging and the country’s sharp economic decline since land reforms in 2000.