You can’t question the power—potential and actual—that an African first lady wields, and you don’t go too far for examples.
You remember Grace Mugabe, right? She is still around, by the way. Just that she no longer has the space to be making the kind of noises that she was making in those two or so years towards the coup that removed her husband from power.
Grace was bad news those days. She is the one who used to summon two whole vice presidents—Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko—to State House, toss notebooks on their laps and order them to take dictations from her.
She apparently even had the audacity to correct their grammar and spellings even though it took her seven full years trying to get an English degree—which she never managed after all—before switching over to Mandarin, which she passed on a Look East basis and then used it as the basis to earn a PhD in two weeks.
All that didn’t matter. She ruled because she was the first lady, courtesy of being the wife of an African president who happened to be degenerating into the twilight of his age.
At that time, it turned out, Grace was withdrawing as much as US$300k on any given day, at a time the majority of us was being limited by the banks to a mere US$10. Those were the crazy days when her sons were blowing up as much as US$50k at a single party in Sandton. You can guess where the money was coming from. And those, also, were the days when Grace was reported to be pocketing millions from the foreign trips she went together with the whole village.
Now, the current first lady, Auxillia Mnangagwa, was whimpering the other day that people musn’t compare her with Grace or, worse, draw similarities between her and Grace. Oh, well. That’s her wish. The point is, it’s hard not to be comparing the two.
By the time her husband was squeezed out, Grace was already running on the title, Doctor of Philosophy. Auxillia is not wasting time. She can legitimately claim the title, Doctor of Philosophy after a benevolent state university recently gave her an honorary doctorate for her charity work. The difference, then, is that Grace faked her way to the title, but this one is just honorary.
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You wonder why these benevolent universities are not recognising our philanthropy considering the millions we are freely dishing out to the government as taxes. Seriously speaking, most of us here must be honorary PhDs on that basis alone. Just that these groveling universities are too selective.
But that’s beside the point. There is a big fear out there that Auxillia is fast taking after Grace in all the bad ways.
Sometime in 2019, Grace was in Kwekwe where she rapped our businesspeople for being so corrupt. She condemned corruption so strongly that you were forced to say: Yes, now she’s talking.
But, hardly a year after, something dramatic happened. That was when Henrietta Rushwaya, the mining amazon, was caught and arrested at the airport allegedly trying to smuggle some 7kgs of gold to Dubai. We say “allegedly” just so as to be on the tidy side.
Whether or not Henrietta was/is guilty is not the matter. Someone who was working with her at some shady mining association rushed to the airport and claimed that the gold was, in fact, Auxillia’s . That’s what was led in court.
Well, Auxillia distanced herself from this attempted theft of a precious mineral through smuggling. And, for sure, there’s lots of namedropping happening in town. But there are certain attending issues that are difficult to ignore. Henrietta has for a long time had this strong link with royalty. In fact, the naughty ones say she is related to the first family.
Secondly, two intelligence guys who were reported to have attempted to help Henrietta slip through the security checkpoint operated under the president and might not have been that unknown to Auxillia.
After all, there is or was a gold mill at the Mnangagwas’ Precabe Farm in Kwekwe. No-one knows exactly how that mill is/was operating, but it being something on the first family’s farm, you can’t then say Auxillia completely didn’t have access to it or stuff proceeding therefrom.
The court of public opinion is very efficient. Mere rumour or the slightest circumstantial evidence is enough to earn you capital punishment. That’s why that court has a 100 percent conviction rate. It doesn’t do catching and releasing either.
That’s how guilty Auxillia is regarding the gold smuggling attempt.
In fact, the Henrietta case managed to give sharp hints on how deep corruption involving the elites could be going. If Auxillia was unfairly namedropped, then, sooner or later, there is someone who is actually involved at the top there, but has been lucky not be mentioned.
Auxillia is also guilty by association.
Clean people associate with clean people. The court of public opinion uses the principle of proximity, which says: If you are caught at the same fireplace with a thief, you are also a thief. No, merely drawing some embers from a thief’s fireplace is enough to tell us who you are.
Quite often, there are things that start off as rumours or just malicious slander, but end up as truth in the court of public opinion. Like, there is this coward based in this diaspora who, from nowhere, wrote somewhere in cyberspace that Auxillia was defrauding the government of millions through a fake car hire company.
What he said is that Auxillia had received a heap of contracts from government to supply travel services when she didn’t have a fleet in the first place, so was taking cars from government and then charging government.
She denied it, of course. But the court of public opinion is having none of that. That’s because it knows from experience and prior judgments that the human tendency is mostly to deny any wrongdoing till pressured into a corner. So you don’t want to waste your time pleading un-guilty in a court of public opinion. Things don’t work that way.
There are more cases where Auxillia could possibly be a victim of vindictive muck-slinging. Again in 2019, Auxillia paid Natpharm, the national pharmaceutical company—a public entity—a mysterious visit. She dressed down the executives at Natpharm on all sorts of accusations.
Here is the thing. A first lady is not a government official. She is not the Health minister or some such official. She absolutely has nothing to do with a government entity, worse still when she visits alone.
Later, she mumbled something about the Health minister, then Obadiah Moyo, who was later fired for alleged Covid-19 related impropriety, being unable to attend because he was in a meeting. That sounds like a tall tale because, when an African first lady wants you in a place, you stop a meeting there and then, even if it is with her husband.
No wonder, then, that many people started spreading this plausible rumour that Auxillia was actually in the process of arranging to buy Natpharm out from government using crooked means. She brought it on herself by making an unnecessary, unprocedural and inexplicable visit to the Natpharm premises.
And, still talking about interference and manipulation, Auxillia is in a sticky patch elsewhere. Did you notice that there was a time when the first lady was pretty like a permanent feature on the second page of one public newspaper? That’s a fact. Where it could be a rumour was when some people alleged that there was no photograph of her or an event she attended that went into the paper with her approval. So, it allegedly became difficult to meet production deadlines because you first had to send the pics to her. If she was not available for the time, you just had to wait.
But then, manipulation of the public media by the first lady is always going to be the same thing as abuse of office, whatever office she imagines she has. Abuse of office is corruption and bad governance.
Tawanda Majoni writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on [email protected]