HARARE – A deadly cocktail of uncertainty, panic and fear has gripped many notable Zanu PF officials who either rose up their party structures or clung onto their positions at the height of the ruling party’s ugly infighting last year, riding on the coat-tails of influential but now ailing First Lady Grace Mugabe (pictured), the Daily News has learnt.

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graceThis comes as Grace’s withdrawal from the public domain over the past four weeks, as well as the unexplained extent of her illness, continues to set tongues wagging — with Zimbabweans speculating furiously about her well-being and what this means for President Robert Mugabe, Zanu PF and the country.

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Mugabe’s normally publicity-mad wife has not been seen in public since early this month, and was recently reported to be unwell by her top ally and politburo member Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri — who, however, did not give details about the extent of Grace’s illness.

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The first lady also underwent what her husband said was an appendix operation in Singapore late last year — even though this supposedly minor procedure kept her away from the country for more than two months, recuperating.

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Well-placed Youth and Women’s League sources who spoke to the Daily News yesterday said many officials in the two structures who were close to Grace were now allegedly being bullied and victimised by their more powerful colleagues who had not benefitted from the first lady’s combative politics of the past few months.

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In the meantime, Grace herself apparently returned to Zimbabwe from Dubai on Friday aboard an Emirates flight, but did not — once again, accompany her globe-trotting husband who left the country on Saturday, first for Tanzania, and then for Ethiopia — choosing instead to retreat to the First Family’s “Blue Roof” Borrowdale mansion.

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“Many of us who are close to Dr Amai (Grace) and others who benefitted from her dramatic entry into formal politics last year are reeling at the moment in her absence. We fear that things could get worse for everyone if Dr Amai does not return to her (Women’s League) duties soon,” a Youth League official said.

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Analysts also concurred yesterday that her continuing failure to attend to her duties would not bode well for her Zanu PF faction, with Maxwell Saungweme saying her dramatic entry into formal politics last year had created another centre of power in the ruling party, thereby weakening it.

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“To some extent, this undermined the power that her husband wielded in the eyes of many,” Saungweme said, adding that her prominent role in the ouster of former Vice President Joice Mujuru had created more problems for Mugabe and heightened factionalism in Zanu PF.

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“Grace became a centre of power, her husband is another, the Gang of Four is another, (Vice President Emmerson) Mnangagwa is another and Mujuru and her Gamatox crew are another centre of power.

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“Her absence really deals a blow to her own centre of power and her hangers-on such as (newly-appointed minister of State for Masvingo Shuvai) Mahofa.

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“She created a lot of confusion which she can no longer properly manage during her extended absence. The more she is out of the picture, the more the confusion is for her followers, the party and the country,” Saungweme said.

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Contacted for comment yesterday about the whereabouts and state of health of Grace, Zanu PF spokesperson Simon Khaya Moyo said, “I am in a meeting and I will send a statement later”.

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Senior researcher with Human Rights Watch, Dewa Mavhinga, said Grace should leave politics and rest, “instead of creating confusion”.

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“She has immense influence in the party and there is a perception that she is a centre of power and clearly her allies are worried about her prolonged absence.

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“However, this has no major political implications. Given that she is unwell, the best decision for her when she comes back would be to leave politics altogether and concentrate on her well-being and that of her family,” Mavhinga said. – Daily News