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Auxillia Mnangagwa gets National Budget allocation
President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa


First Lady eclipses nemesis Grace Mugabe on excesses



FIRST Lady Auxilia Mnangagwa continues to hog the limelight with high-profile events and guests, which include hosting Botswana First Lady Neo Jane Masisi only last week, eclipsing her predecessor and nemesis Grace Mugabe in terms of attention-seeking activities and playing to the gallery, while abusing proximity to power and interfering on state matters.


 Unlike her peers within the region, including South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s wife Tshepo Motsepe, and her guest last week, as well as neighbours, Zimbabwe’s First Lady’s visibility in humanitarian causes, community activities and state politics has been over-projected in recent years. 

 The South Africa First Lady is hardly in the public domain despite high-profile credentials as a medical doctor and wife of the President, who is also a billionaire in South African terms. Her brother Patrice Motsepe is also a billionaire.

 Born in Soweto, in Johannesburg, and raised in the rural village of Mathibestad near Hammanskraal and her ancestral home, Mmakau in North West province, Tshepo Motsepe is the eldest of seven siblings and a mother to four children.

 She is a qualified medical doctor, holding a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degree from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and a Master of Public Health in Maternal Child Health and Aging from the Harvard School of Public Health.

She has also completed a Social Entrepreneurship Certificate Programme at the Gordon Institute of Business Science.

The South African First Lady has worked in private practice and in hospitals, including Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in South Africa and Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare, Zimbabwe; each being the largest in their countries.

She also worked with the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, which is a leading African research institute focusing on sexual, reproductive health and HIV research.

She has also served as chairperson of the Gauteng Health Department’s Accreditation Committee. Motsepe is currently the Patron of the Early Care Foundation (previously Asha Trust), a non-profit organisation which provides early childhood development support programmes for home-based crèches in disadvantaged communities.

She serves as patron of the South African Civil Society for Women’s, Adolescents’ and Children’s Health, the Students’ Sponsorship Programme and a trustee of the Hospice Association of the Witwatersrand.

She is a former member of the National Medical and Dental Association and the boards of the Vaal Reefs Disaster Trust and the Kids Haven Foundation. In her daily work, she says she is guided by the conviction that “economic and social development is a pre-requisite for communities to lead socially and economically productive lives” as stated in the World Health Organisation’s Alma-Ata Declaration of 1978.

Despite her solid and colourful profile, Motsepe is not all over the place. She does not compare to Auxilia’s axcesses. Former Namibian First Lady Monica Geingos, a lawyer and businesswoman, was visible for her anti-corruption stance and brilliant speeches. She gave a reflective and exceptionally thoughtful speech at the burial of her husband President Hage Geingob on Sunday.

That won her more admirers and respect. By contrast, the Zimbabwean First Lady loves power, influence and money, as well as publicity. Her addresses are pedestrian and uninspiring. Yet overindulgences and hedonisms are conspicuous for all to see. Auxilia even has a page — at one time Page 3 — in the state-controlled newspaper,

The Herald, to cover her activities. The state-controlled Sunday Mail and state-owned ZBC also consistently feature her prominently. As expected, Auxilia received huge coverage last week from state media which practically idolises her.

 While Grace Mugabe assumed prominence because of her love for branded luxury goods — especially the famous Italian brand Gucc — and her explosive and politically suicidal role in a bid to influence events around the late former president Robert Mugabe’s volatile succession, Auxilia has now gone beyond that through to community activities, business and interference in state affairs.

Insiders say since establishing the First Lady’s office at Zimbabwe House, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s official residence where Grace used to live at one point, Auxilia has been consolidating her influence to became a critical player behind the scenes.

Ironically, when the 2017 coup that toppled former president Robert Mugabe unfolded, military commanders and top Zanu PF officials announced that one of the reasons for actions was to stop Grace from increasingly assuming government roles.

This included Mugabe’s firing of Mnangagwa in which Grace played a leading role. Writing from exile, Mnangagwa said Grace’s interference in government affairs 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,” Mnangagwa said.

 “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.”

Auxilia has, however, now far surpassed Grace’s levels of government interference, now representing government on some trips, for instance to Belarus, and getting some dubious qualifications in a bid to build a reputation and strengthen her credentials.

 In December 2022, she was 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.

Mnangagwa is the chancellor of the university, presenting an open conflict of interest. During Mugabe’s time, Grace controversially “earned” a doctorate at the University of Zimbabwe. It was shown that she had been fast-tracked through and assisted due to political influence.

 History shows that first ladies who try to elevate their statuses through controversial methods do it for political reasons, including taking over power from their husbands, as happened in Romania.

Romanian researchers had to call for aca demic publishers to remove Elena Ceausescu’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 Ceausescu was executed.

Elena 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 Ceausescu’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. In 2022, she met Iranian Foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian to discuss expanding and deepening relations between the two countries.

This work is normally reserved for diplomats, government officials, including the responsible minister, 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.

Her visit to Belarus on a follow-up mission on deals signed between Harare and Minsk last year raised serious concerns of state capture and cronyism, as she does not have an electoral mandate to represent the government on any business, including international trips.

 Auxilia visited Minsk with her sons Sean and Collins. She met Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko who recently sent his “small house” for a meeting with her.

Professor Irina Abelskaya, the Belarusian envoy recently dispatched to Harare to deliver a donation to Auxilia, is Lukashenko’s mistress and mother of his 20-year-old son Nikolai “Kolya” whom he is reportedly grooming to be his successor.

The visit placed her at the centre of state affairs, unconstitutionally. Reports from Belarus indicated that Auxilia was discussing government-to-business.

According to Belarus media house Belta, “cooperation in various areas were discussed at the meeting with the head of state. These areas included medicine, agriculture, and the mining industry, each of which affects the quality of people’s lives.”

The East European country’s media outlet also revealed that Auxilia represented her husband, President Mnangagwa, in the meetings “in line with the agreements reached between the presidents of Belarus and Zimbabwe during Aleksand Lukashenko’s state visit to Harare”, saying it learnt this from the Press service of the Belarusian ministry of Foreign Affairs.

 Lukashenko, in a statement after meeting Auxilia and her sons Sean and Collins, said: “Dear Mrs Auxilia Mnangagwa, as we agreed with the president, you are in Belarus today on a very important visit. I am fulfilling the request of my friend President Emmerson so that the technologies that are in demand in Zimbabwe are in your country. We are ready to help you implement several projects at the request of your country and your president to build high-tech enterprises. First of all, this concerns humanitarian activities.”

In November 2022, she was allocated funding by Treasury under tourism advocacy and awareness, the first time a First Lady got this. Her name has also been mired in the gold-smuggling expose by Qatari-based news channel, Al Jazeera.

In the four-episode series, she is caught talking to presidential envoy Uebert Angel plotting to smuggle US$1.2 billion on a plane to clean the dirty money for payment.

 The role played by the wives of heads of state in Africa has been largely under-researched and scantily reported.

The “Office of the First Lady” wields incredible soft power in the political system of numerous African countries. Unlike the president, the role of the first lady is not defined in African constitutions.

The lack of definition leaves first ladies with no specific assignments and responsibilities, which, as a result, are left for each president and his spouse   to determine, opening room for abuse of office and power, interference in state affairs and corruption.