Grace has replaced Robert Mugabe, Tsvangirai claims

Harare - Zimbabwe's aging President Robert Mugabe has been "surreptitiously but willingly" replaced by his wife Grace, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai claimed Monday.

Grace Mugabe, 50, had taken over in a "palace coup" and no one in government was doing anything about the country's crisis, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader said in an end-of-year message.

"No one in government is thinking of solutions to the national challenges as everyone is preoccupied with issues of who will succeed this tired man steering the ship of State," he said.

"There is no boldness to confront the national crisis; what with an aged president and everyone around him fighting to succeed him," Tsvangirai added, highlighting Zimbabwe's growing unemployment and hunger. 

He said Zimbabwe was faced with a leadership crisis. His own popularity plummeted since a coalition government in which he served as prime minister ended in 2013.

"Unless and until we sort out the legitimacy crisis, we will not resolve the confidence deficit this government has suffered from local and international investors," he said.

Critics warned that Monday's announcement of a ban on cellphone recharge cards, to be implemented in six months, would threaten the livelihoods of thousands of vendors. Most Zimbabweans were employed in the informal and vending sectors.

Mugabe, who would turn 92 in two months, had been in power since independence in 1980. He appeared in relatively good health, although he stumbled twice in public in 2015. Tsvangirai lost to him in presidential elections in 2002, 2008, and 2013. Each time the MDC leader claimed Mugabe rigged and intimidated his way to victory.

In the last 18 months, Grace Mugabe had taken an increasingly-prominent role in Zimbabwe's politics, spearheading the fight to get Joice Mujuru removed from her position as vice president last year. 

Currently head of the ruling party's powerful women's league, Mugabe had denied having presidential ambitions.

The opposition criticised her recent handouts of clothes, washing powder, and agricultural equipment procured using a government loan from Brazil, at rallies.


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