PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe's wife, Grace, is set to take over the leadership of the Zanu PF Women's League after she was nominated at a "birthday" party on Friday.
The move, which has sent shockwaves in the ruling party, marks the First Lady's formal entry into Zimbabwe's turbulent political seas.
The development comes after a South Africa-based political analyst recently warned that Mugabe's wife was a factor in Zanu PF succession politics which have, hitherto, been seen as a fight between rival factions aligned to Vice President Joice Mujuru and Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.
"…Absent in the Zimbabwean table of political debate is the observation that in actuality one of the most influential of (the) many parties in Zanu PF is the one led by Grace Mugabe," wrote Dinizulu Mbikokayise Macaphulana in a June article.
"So much dust has been raised about the Joice Mujuru faction and the Emmerson Munangagwa faction to the total ignorance of how Grace Mugabe is grouping people around herself and her own political project to seize power in the party and the country if not to ensure that those who will protect her vast business empire succeed Mugabe and secure her golden pickings for posterity."
Mugabe's wife was endorsed by the league members carefully drawn from the country's 10 provinces following a birthday function at her farm in Mazowe. Grace turned 49 this week.
Current women's league boss, Oppah Muchinguri, made the shock announcement with the support of Senate President Edna Madzongwe.
Vice-President Joice Mujuru, who leads a faction vying to control the ruling party, did not attend the birthday celebration.
Muchinguri said Grace deserved to lead the women's wing for standing by her husband during tough times.
"When you married the President you offered to make his troubles yours and you have been there with him ever since, even in the light of attacks by paparazzi and the West. You fought for us and the country and the only way we can repay you is to ask you to lead us," Muchinguri said.
"Newspapers have written bad things about you including that you had grabbed a farm but you have stayed strong. We are here to thank you Amai, we should never forget that."
She added: "I know it is hard for you, you never liked politics but your children are saying lead us. This is the word; it is not hard because your soldiers are here. God has his time. We will pray for you."
In her response, Grace said she felt honoured to have been nominated to lead the women's league.
"I am overwhelmed and I am shaking right now. I cannot believe this is what you have decided, but this is God's work, and those speaking here are mouthpieces of God," she said.
Birthday party and political rally … Mugabe (second from left) with other Zanu PF leaders
She revealed that some war collaborators had approached her last month asking her to enter politics and stand as chairperson of the women's league.
"But I have realised that it is interesting to be in the women's league because there is less work but more dancing and singing. If so then I will come. I have energy like a horse and I can dance all day long," said Mugabe.
"The situation is like that of a girl being proposed by a man; you do not say yes the very minute. So I will come and say girls let us go, after being mentored by Muchinguri."
Sources within the ruling Zanu PF said Muchinguri, who is said to belong to a faction of the party led by Emmerson Mnangagwa, is set to take over as the party's secretary for administration, a position which was held by Didymus Mutasa.
In her opening remarks, Madzongwe did not mince her words.
"We are here to beg her (Grace Mugabe) to lead the women's league. Those who did not hear what I said, maybe because of the speakers, I repeat again, mama (Grace Mugabe) is going to lead the women's league," said Madzongwe to rapturous applause.
Mugabe was also endorsed by a litany of Zanu PF-aligned women's groups among them the Zimbabwe Liberation War Collaborators Association, Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association Women's Wing, cabinet ministers' spouses represented by Tsitsi Sekeramayi, wife to Defence Minister Sydney Sekeramayi, parliamentarians (Mabel Chinomona), Women's League provincial chairpersons (Shyllet Uyoyo) and Flora Bhuka who said she was representing the politburo.
Muchinguri said she was aware that there were some dissenting voices within the women's league over the decision to nominate Mugabe.
"We know that some people are not happy and we can sense as well as see that. We want those who want Amai to lead us to raise their hands," demanded Muchinguri.
Everyone then "enthusiastically" raised their fists in the air chanting the slogan, "Pamberi namai Mugabe" (Forward with the First Lady).
Mugabe's first wife, Sally, who died of kidney failure in 1992, was also elected the deputy leader of the women's league in 1978 before being elected president of the league in 1989 till her death.
But for Grace, this is the first time that she is formally entering the political fray. Her decision to enter the political ring could reconfigure the political puzzle surrounding Mugabe's succession within Zanu PF which is split along factional lines.
Mujuru is locked in a bitter fight with Mnangagwa to succeed Mugabe, the only leader Zimbabweans have known since independence from Britain 34 years ago.