Auxillia steals limelight in meddling
WHEN the 2017 coup that toppled the long-time ruler Robert Mugabe unfolded, military commanders and top Zanu PF officials announced that one of the reasons for the ouster was to stop the then first lady Grace Mugabe from increasingly assuming government roles.
Writing from exile in South Africa before the coup, the incoming leader, Emmerson Mnangagwa, said Grace’s interference in government had reached levels which could no longer be tolerated.
“This party is now controlled by undisciplined, egotistical and self-serving minnows who derive power, not from the party, but from only two individuals in the form of the first family who have now privatised our beloved institution.
“I now urge all the genuine members of the party to determine for themselves who between the three of us, including your wife, is the real culprit in destroying our party,” he said.
However, in a shock turn of events, First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa has surpassed those levels of government interference described by her husband in his letter written barely five years ago.
This week the nation woke up to news that the First Lady had been conferred with an honorary Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in development studies at the 20th graduation ceremony of the Zimbabwe Open University (ZOU) in Harare.
While Grace enjoyed being held in high esteem and tried to spruce up her image by controversially clinching an “earned” doctorate at the University of Zimbabwe, Auxilia has gone straight for an honorary PhD.
Grace was accused of trying to cut corners, but Auxilia beats her in that game as she brazenly received an honorary PhD from a state university whose chancellor is her husband. She went further, using a cabinet minister, Sithembiso Nyoni, to receive it on her behalf.
History shows that first ladies who try to elevate their statuses through controversial methods do so in order to eventually take over power from their husbands, as happened in Romania. Romanian researchers had to call for academic publishers to remove Elena Ceaușescu’s name from almost two dozen scientific papers and books fraudulently published as her work, more than 30 years after the wife of the communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu was executed.
Elena Ceaușescu was celebrated by state propaganda under her husband’s regime as a world-famous chemistry researcher, despite having no credible qualifications. The researchers also called for Ceaușescu’s honorary titles, awards and PhD to be revoked, and for institutions that honoured her — including the United Kingdom’s Royal Society of Chemistry and the Polytechnic of Central London (now the University of Westminster) — to withdraw recognition and acknowledge that her scientific career was bogus.
Auxilia faces a similar fate. While Grace became notorious for her fiery tirades during political rallies and publicly humiliated government officials like George Charamba and Mnangagwa himself, she did not reach Auxilia’s level of virtually usurping government roles, for instance being involved in diplomacy in a capacity similar to that of a Foreign Affairs minister or the President.
Recently she met with Iranian Foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and they discussed matters to do with expanding and deepening relations between the two countries. This work is normally reserved for diplomats and the President.
Amir-Abdollahian said ties between the two countries continue to grow and expressed hope that, in the near future and with the holding of the 9th meeting of the Joint Commission on Cooperation between the two countries, relations in all fields will develop further.
Auxilia has been at pains to present herself as a caring mother of the nation. She criss-crosses the country, rolling out programmes like cooking competitions and charity schemes, but she surpasses Grace in many respects.
While Auxilia appears anxious to portray a veneer of motherly love, behind the scenes she has been described as ruthless and rough around the edges. In the recent past an audio leaked in which she used foul language to threaten the then Presidential Guard Commander Colonel Samson Murombo, accusing him of plotting to kill her.
“Who are you telling my whereabouts? What do you need that information for? I am coming to deal with you at your office.”
“If it is Mnangagwa whom you do not want, just kill him and leave me alone, I have children.” “You planted Mhlanga in my office, as low in rank as he is. Do you think I am a fool? I am a trained somebody. You are seeking to deal with Mnangagwa through me through tracking my phone, am I Mnangagwa?”
“You are stupid, I will expose you, I do not care about your post but you personally. I am shocked. I am just a woman, a granny, but I have powerful people like you spying on me. Go shoot Mnangagwa and spare me. I am no threat to anyone.
“Go and shoot Mnangagwa, do not shoot me, I am not a threat, go and shoot Mnangagwa,” she was heard as saying in an audio clip that stunned Zimbabweans.
At the state media, Auxilia calls the shots directly, unlike Grace. She now has a dedicated pages in The Herald and The Sunday Mail, which carry her public relations stories and photos of her choice, making a mockery of the state-controlled newspapers and their browbeaten editors.
Former Herald editor Tichaona Zindoga, who tried to stop the trend, was fired. Through her office, she has selected journalists she travels with to her functions from the print media and the state broadcaster ZBC.
She pays them directly. She does not allow them to be changed, even when they are off-duty, which creates organisational challenges to assignment editors at state media houses. Public media are supposed to be independent in its operations. Grace Mugabe did not reach these levels.
Recently, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube announced that the First Lady would get a budget allocation via the 2023 National Budget, the first time that a first lady has been directly allocated state funds in such a controversial and potentially illegal manner.
Although former first lady Grace Mugabe had become increasingly involved in government duties before her husband Robert Mugabe was toppled in a military coup, she did not get direct financial allocations via the National Budget. Ncube said Mnangagwa’s wife will get financial support under tourism advocacy and awareness, “in an effort to improve tourism awareness in communities”.
Ncube, at pains to explain why the First Lady will get taxpayer funds, added that “the First Lady together with the line Ministry, contributed to the diversification of the tourism product base through the introduction of Gastronomy Tourism by promoting traditional foods and cuisines.”
“The National Cookout Competitions will be cascaded to district levels and upgrading to regional (Sadc) level.”
However, lawyer and director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Musa Kika, said the budget allocation was unlawful and described it as abuse of public funds.
“First lady is neither a constitutional nor a statutory office and cannot be allocated an independent budget. However, she is part of the President’s Office and can have her work supported under that office budget, but not a separate budget,” he said. Kika, who once appealed against the extension of Chief Justice Luke Malaba’s tenure of office after reaching retirement age, told The NewsHawks that there is no law in Zimbabwe that provides for the funding of programmes spearheaded by a first lady. He added that the budget allocation can be challenged in court.
“This is simply abuse of public funds. There is no law at all in Zimbabwe recognising that office, save for Statutory Instrument 261 of 2020 which provides for Presidential Pension and Retirement Benefits (Services and Facilities for Spouses of Former Presidents) which only deals with spouses of former presidents and their benefits.”
“One can challenge this as misuse of funds under the public finance management laws of Zimbabwe,” said Kika.
Douglas Coltart, a senior member of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), also said it was illegal for the government to expressly fund the First Lady’s programmes.
“If there is allocation of funds in the national budget to the First Lady, that would be unlawful. Budgetary funds may only be allocated to institutions established by the Constitution or an Act of Parliament.”
“However, it is unclear from the minister’s statement whether the funds will be allocated to the First Lady or whether she will merely be a participant in the programme. There needs to be further clarity and scrutiny over how these funds will be managed and disbursed,” he said.
The First Lady launched the competitions which will now be bankrolled from the government’s purse in 2020 to promote what she describes as an uptake of traditional dishes, a programme she has since handed over to the ministry of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality.
The First Lady has also been penetrating the health sector through her Angel of Hope Foundation, which saw her being named Ambassador of Health in 2018.
Her globetrotting endeavours in that role were however significantly whittled down when Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga took over as Health minister.
Behind the scenes, Auxilia has also been accumulating wealth for her family in controversial deals like the murky US$60 million scandal that involved the First Family’s ally Delish Nguwaya. Grace was known for business ventures mostly in Mazowe and strove to use them as a source of cash as opposed to dabbling in shady deals.
After all has been said, the recent announcement of Auxilia’s budget allocation, and meddling in government affairs overwhelmingly prove that she has outdone Grace Mugabe, considering that the military partly justified the November 2017 coup by amplifying the need to clip the wings of Mugabe’s wife who was dabbling in party and government business.