Grim faces, jaunty Xmas hat at Mugabe party conference

2015-12-11 15:23

Harare – Straw hats, bow ties and one very jaunty Christmas hat: delegates at a Zimbabwe ruling party conference in Victoria Falls on Friday were decked out in style.

All eyes were on President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace, who were in co-ordinated yellow-and-white print outfits that toned in with a large yellow-and-red floral arrangement on the top podium. Other top party officials wore shirts with Zanu-PF motifs. 

Packed to capacity in a tent on the golf course at the Elephant Hills resort, many of the estimated 6 000 delegates wore party caps. Some wore T-shirts with slogans.

Fans – handheld and electric – were out in force. The temperature in Zimbabwe's most popular holiday resort on Friday was reported to be around 31C.

But the fashions couldn't detract from some very grim faces. 

This conference is taking place as fighting within Zanu-PF over who will succeed the 91-year-old Mugabe reaches a fever pitch – though the party does not like reporters to say this.

Mugabe has been in power in Zimbabwe since independence in 1980. While he appears mostly in good form, he has stumbled twice in public this year.

Speculation is high that the man seen, until very recently, as the man to take over as Zimbabwe's next president – Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa – has fallen from grace. 

When Mnangagwa took to the podium for the first time on Friday morning, First Lady Grace Mugabe kept her head firmly down, staring at the roses in front of her.

Mnangagwa's colleague and rival Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko and his wife also maintained stony faces. Home Affairs Minister Ignatius Chombo did not even look up when Mnangagwa briefly addressed him.

Grace Mugabe is widely believed to be angling for the presidency herself, backed by a group of Zanu-PF officials, commonly referred to as the G-40. Mphoko also has the group's sympathies. Chombo is not believed to be part of the G-40.

Mnangagwa later attempted to praise Mugabe, calling him "the father of our nation, the teacher, the liberator".

"This is the man that every leader in the world would want to shake hands [with]. But we Zimbabweans we say he is ours, he is our leader, he is our light, he is our torch," Mnangagwa said. But even that did not raise a smile from Mugabe, who stared down at his papers. 

Grace, however, managed a grin.

The event is being screened live by the local ZBC broadcaster.

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