HARARE – President Robert Mugabe recently caught many unaware when he travelled to Addis, Ababa, Ethiopia for the African Golden Jubilee celebrations accompanied by his daughter, Bona.
Mugabe’s wife, Grace did not travel with the president.
Bona, 24 who resembles her mother, looked at ease as she walked the red carpet and greeted Zanu PF politicians and cabinet ministers who usually converge at Harare International Airport to bid Mugabe farewell or welcome him.
The world over, we have had presidents like US’s Barrack Obama and Bill Clinton grace platforms accompanied by their spouses and daughters, hence sending a sense of family and unity.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai recently introduced his twins to the nation as he accompanied them to register as voters.
But it is the recent image of Mugabe and Bona travelling together on an international assignment that has had all and sundry asking; is the president grooming Bona for the future?
Bona seems to be a favourite of Mugabe ahead of his two sons and in a recent interview with SABC talk show host Dali Tambo, the president describes Bona, a postgraduate student, as “very obedient” and “absolutely trustworthy.”
Asked if any of his children take after him, Mugabe, who boasts an impressive array of degrees, said: “They are still young. The girl, perhaps, yes. She wants to be a chartered accountant. We are very happy for her.”
Social commentator Rashweat Mukundu says Zimbabweans should not read much into the president’s travelling with his daughter.
“From past interviews the president has spoken glowingly of his admiration of his daughter who, among all his children, he approximated her intellectual prowess to his.
“The president like any parent is showing fondness for Bona and obviously grooming her for leadership, but I doubt that to be political. In all the images I have seen of Bona and the president she does not appear to show any enthusiasm for sloganeering or admiration of the bootlickers and Zanu PF supporters that surround her father. Some grooming is certainly taking place but not for politics,” says Mukundu.
He says having experienced the pains of politics for over five decades he doubts the president would want her daughter to go through that.
Bona, named after Mugabe’s mother, was set to get married, Mugabe revealed. Asked by Tambo what qualities he would look for in a future husband for Bona, Mugabe says: “Regarding such approaches, one from a wolf who has come to seize one of my lambs — that’s the feeling. But it must be a person of her own choice. My hope would be first, qualities of a good husband will live with her, because he loves her through thick and thin and not just look at her now as she still is that flower, attractive, blooming.”
“She will have kids and quite a lot of what is now the real charm will disappear and the face will start having wrinkles. So he should not pit her at that time against up and coming younger ones, which is what most people do and as a result we get lots of divorces.”
Phillip Pasirayi, Centre for Community Development in Zimbabwe (CCDZ)’s director, said Mugabe wants to groom Bona for a future political role.
“From the look of things it seems the president is closer to Bona than he is to Chatunga.
“They are close probably because Bona emulates her dad’s educational and political exploits.
“I suspect that Bona wants to follow in her dad’s footsteps.
“The lad (Chatunga) is an embarrassment to the First Family after he came out of high school empty-handed,” said Pasirayi.
In the SABC interview Mugabe chides Bellarmine (Chatunga), whose studies at a private school came to an abrupt end earlier this year.
“He has not made me happy in the way he takes to his studies. He should be more serious than he is at the moment.”
Mugabe is a known academic who holds several degrees but is disappointed with his sons who have dismally failed most examinations. Chatunga’s older brother, Robert Junior, also at St Georges College failed his Ordinary levels with a string of U’s (ungraded).
Chatunga only managed to score 14 units during his grade seven examinations which he sat for in 2009 at Hartmann House, the preparatory school for St George’s College, one of the oldest and most exclusive private boys’ school in Zimbabwe.
Although Robert Jnr has also proven to be a laggard educationally — a fact confirmed by Mugabe in a media interview last year — the youngster has, however, excelled in sport, especially basketball.
At some point, the young man even played for the Zimbabwe under-18 team, where he was a star and firm favourite of adoring girls. Commenting on his son’s abysmal failure, a jocular Mugabe said then that Robert had become an “undertaker” for a string of ungraded marks in his examinations.
Playwright Daves Guzha says it is good that Mugabe is exposing his children to the world.
He said gone are the days when people could whisper about the First Family.
“We have had presidents like Obama and Bill Clinton travelling with their daughters so as to expose them to the world. It is a strategy that works as it shows that the president is a family man and loving father,” says Guzha.
Guzha says the president, just like any father should be proud of his children and as a former teacher; he would have loved to have a disciplined family.
“It is his wish that his children attain the highest level of education. It seems of now it is only Bona doing well at school.”
Mugabe and Grace recently attended the graduation ceremony of Bona Mugabe at City University in Hong Kong where they joined hundreds of other parents who came to celebrate their children’s achievements in the university’s Chan Tai Ho Hall.
Bona graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration (Honours) in Accountancy.
Harare Residents Trust, (HRT) director Precious Shumba says Mugabe is exposing his children to national and international affairs, political, social, cultural and economical, whereupon he believes they will genuinely catch on and become involved in the affairs of the state, and probably in Zanu PF, taking up leadership positions.
“If done above board there is nothing wrong, but if they are imposed, this has potential to cause disaffection from party members and those that work with them.
“However, I think that the president is genuinely trying to build his children to enjoy his presidency while learning the intricate nature of leadership, probably for their business empire, and subsequently for political office in the future,” said Shumba.
Political activist Tabani Moyo says it is difficult to read into the mind of the octogenarian leader especially nowadays.
“However, judging from the general tendencies of dictatorships across the continent is that they showcase poor succession plans when they are still young and active. Like a rude awakening call they are quick to settle for last minute grooming efforts.
“At times such efforts do not show logical conclusions and choice and process but they do it all the same,” said Moyo.
Moyo said he hoped that on this specific trip the first family was on a joint state business and holiday rather than grooming the daughter for public office, “because there are readily available leaders within and without Mugabe’s party.”
Social and media commentator Thomas Deve says children often travel with their parents as part of discovering what the world has to offer, but in so doing, they get extended exposure and enjoy the trappings of power.
“That process makes them aspire to maintain privileges associated with their parents’ jobs and will generally gravitate towards the good life if it is going to be guaranteed by politics. But at the same time, other children resist the grooming and opt for less sophisticated or alternative lifestyles, no wonder why we have many children of politicians that hate politics with a passion.”