HARARE Zimbabwe's First Lady Grace Mugabe said on Thursday deputy president Joice Mujuru, potential successor to her 90-year-old husband Robert Mugabe, should resign, in an attack likely to widen divisions in the ruling party.
Grace, leader of the women's wing of Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, has accused Mujuru of betraying the president by mobilising support for a possible challenge for the party leadership at a December congress.
Mujuru - Mugabe's deputy for the last 10 years - has not responded to the attacks. Analysts say the president's silence on the issue could suggest he shared his wife's views.
Mugabe has ruled the southern African nation since independence from Britain in 1980, and overwhelmingly won re-election last year in a vote denounced by his main rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, as a "huge fraud".
Speculation is rife among both supporters and opponents of Mugabe that his health is failing - something he denies - raising worries about violent instability if he dies with the succession battle in ZANU-PF unresolved.
"Mrs Mujuru must resign now. She wants to use money to topple Mugabe," Grace said while addressing veterans of Zimbabwe's 1970s liberation war at her orphanage outside Harare.
"There are plenty of people who can run this country, not Mujuru," she said in a speech.
Grace, 49, has been quickly vaulted into the higher echelons of ZANU-PF. Her abrasive style has rankled with some senior party members, who say in private Mugabe could be preparing his wife to take over when he leaves office.
"She (Mujuru) says I want to be president. Why not? Am I not a citizen of Zimbabwe? Why do you think only you are fit?" Grace Mugabe asked in the Shona language.
Political analysts say Mugabe has managed to remain in power by balancing factions against each other and not openly showing his hand on his favoured successor.
Grace accused Mujuru of incompetence as vice president and said she had only got her post because of Mugabe's influence.
"Today we now say you should retire, madam, so that those who are capable can get on with the job," she said without elaborating who might replace Mujuru.
(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; editing by Andrew Roche)