BY Staff Reporters
POLITICAL analysts and opposition parties have questioned First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa’s “philanthropic” work, which has reportedly seen her interfering in government business.
In some cases, she has been accused of using State resources, raising fears that Zimbabwe was sliding back to the ex-First Lady Grace Mugabe era, where former President Robert Mugabe’s wife had literary captured all State institutions.
The analysts cited a recent incident where the First Lady toured the State-run pharmaceutical warehouse, National Pharmaceutical Company (NatPharm), where she was captured on video quizzing officials over stockpiles of undistributed medical drugs at a time most public hospitals were without drugs.
She was also recently recorded threatening to confront mobile network operators over tariff hikes at a gathering in Masvingo province.
But Auxillia yesterday hit back, saying opposition political parties should not remain in election mode and should stop attacking citizens concerned with the well-being of Zimbabweans, including their supporters.
“I have been a health ambassador for quite some time and my role is to help the vulnerable in whatever possible way. When I made a visit to NatPharm, I had asked the Minister of Health (Obadiah Moyo) to accompany me so that I could appreciate their operations. It is unfortunate that he was in a meeting. He sent a representative,” she said.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure urged Auxillia to stick to her humanitarian work and stay away from government policy matters.
“During the first days of Mnangagwa’s rule, he promised to keep his family away from State matters and he managed to do so in the run-up to the elections. But now, he might need to reconsider certain things and ensure his wife does not get too much attention and compete with him in State papers,” he said.
“First ladies the world over are known for humanitarian work and giving a human face to the State. They are there to do social work and that is what Auxillia should focus on. She must continue with her humanitarian work and not try to venture into governance issues.”
United Kingdom-based Zimbabwean economic researcher Brighton Musonza also chipped in, saying the First Lady “needs to slow down”.
“Her presence on the political scene brings back the trauma we suffered at the hands of Grace Mugabe. She is interfering with public policy and overcrowding the space meant for bureaucrats,” he said.
“I am not sure in what capacity does she tell her audience that she will personally confront telecommunications companies personally. Her threats to confront telecommunications operators will sway away potential investors, particularly those looking to buy TelOne and NetOne. She must restrict herself to charity work and some low level philanthropically events.”
Opposition MDC spokesperson Jacob Mafume said Auxillia was “actually worse” than Grace Mugabe and exposed Mnangagwa’s family leadership skills.
“Grace Mugabe was known for being a political actor and never at all did she go to a State institution and harass professionals like what we are seeing today. This is very dangerous, and definitely, it will not end well,” he said. “It shows that Mnangagwa is just like Mugabe in his last days. He is failing to control his wife. What role does she have on professionals at NatPharm? This is telling, indeed.”
Mafume said Zimbabwe was fast becoming a Banana Republic because what Auxillia was doing was “unconstitutional and illegal”.
“In fact, she has no authority whatsoever to be harassing those professionals. That is the job of the board which reports to the minister,” he said.
“In a normal society, the minister does not interact with management, he interacts with the board. What Auxillia is doing shows that these Zanu PF leaders have failed to provide leadership.”
He charged that she had overstepped her mandate.
“The Minister of Health and other senior government officials should be ashamed of what is happening,” Mafume said.
First Lady Auxillia, however, denied harassing professionals.
“I did not supervise anyone, but engaged them as a mother so that I could understand how they operate, their challenges and how we could solve them as a people,” she said.
“I am not a government employee. I have no powers over ministers, but I just help in my role as the First Lady to raise awareness on health issues. I also take care of their mothers and their supporters.”
The First Lady, who has managed to secure funding for some hospitals in Hwange and Binga, said her hospital visits were informed by a desire to use her advocacy strengths to mobilise supplies for public hospitals through her philanthropic arm, Angel of Hope Foundation.
“I don’t get any cent from Treasury for all the projects I do. There are many people who support us and not even a single cent comes from government. People should appreciate that through my humanitarian work, I assist people across the political divide. I don’t select whether Zanu PF or MDC,” she said.
“In fact, we don’t want to see people wearing party regalia at our functions. I am doing my duties as the First Lady, which is social work, helping the needy where possible. I am not into politics.”
Auxillia insisted that her work was restricted to humanitarian activities and had never dabbled in politics or hijacked any government programmes such that she could be compared with Grace.
“I have never instructed any minister to do any work or even summoned anyone to my office. I spend much of my time in rural areas interacting with old people, even parents of these MDC officials who are complaining that I am taking over government business. It is wrong to try and compare me with Grace Mugabe,” she said.
The First Lady last week made an impromptu visit to NatPharm, demanding to see how the group was operating and why it had stocks of medicines in its warehouse, while some rural hospitals did not have drugs.
Her visit reportedly forced Moyo to call for an urgent meeting with NatPharm executives, where he read the riot act before he went on to appoint the First Lady as “health ambassador”.
Besides the visit to NatPharm, the First Lady has been criss-crossing the country, addressing various stakeholders on issues such as inheritance, maternal health and entrepreneurship.
At a public event in Gutu, Masvingo, recently, Auxillia said she would engage telecommunications operators to ensure the community was well serviced.
Moyo said he had spoked to First Lady Auxillia before her tour of NatPharm.
“Indeed, we discussed with the First Lady about her familiarization tour of NatPharm. Because I was engaged elsewhere, I dispatched one of my senior staffers at the ministry to accompany her,” the Health minister said.
“In relation to a meeting I had with NatPharm executives, it was a scheduled meeting which was not influenced by the First Lady. She is merely fulfilling her philanthropic work, nothing more nothing less. In any case, she is now our ambassador for health and child care.”
Information deputy minister Energy Mutodi disagreed with analysts and the opposition, saying the First Lady had the right to be involved in the health sector because she had an organisation whose main agenda was the social well-being of citizens and her actions do not constitute usurping Executive power.
“Any citizen of Zimbabwe can be appointed an ambassador for any organisation, provided that such an individual accepts the invitation. We see no problem with that and her presence and participation in such events, as I have described, does not constitute any interference with government operations,” he said.
Secretary for Information, Ndavaningi Mangwana, also defended the First Lady’s role, claiming it was synonymous with the roles performed by all first ladies across the globe.
“These are people that use their prominence to influence matters of public importance as well as highlight certain causes, which are normally marginalised from public discourse,” he said.
“In the case of Amai Mnangagwa, health is an issue which is close to her heart. That’s why she has just been made health ambassador.”
Mangwana said of Auxillia’s visit to NatPharm, she had the constitutional right to access information.
He said it was an insult to compare Auxillia to Grace, saying the former’s visibility was issues-led as opposed to the former First Lady, who he said wanted power and disparaged her husband’s political allies.