FRENCH writer Alphonse Karr (1808-90) used the proverb: “The more things change, the more they stay the same” to describe spellbinding societal changes that occurred in the 19th century in Europe, but little did he know that the statement would be just as relevant to many distant lands, and in diverse circumstances, over two centuries later.
The proverb, often said in a resigned or sarcastic tone, is usually used to explain a scenario where many things remain consistent even as changes happen.
BY BRIDGET MANANAVIRE
Likewise, it can aptly explain the relation between the so-called new dispensation, or second republic in Zimbabwe which, despite its proponents insisting it marks a clean break with the past, bears a striking resemblance to the discredited era of former president Robert Mugabe.
As it was under the Mugabe, so it continues to be under the Emmerson Mnangagwa administration—institutionally and culturally.
There appears to be is no clear distinguishing line between the two, more so in terms of the governance ethos which is basically similar to the old order.
The protocol culture that existed during Mugabe’s 37 years in power, where government officials—in routines that became something of a ritual—stampeded to go see off and welcome the president at the airport, is the same. The motorcade spectacle is still the same, a dramatic manifestation of the old way of doing things.
However, there have been some reforms in relation to legal, political and economic reforms but the changes have not constituted a clear departure from the Mugabe era.
One of the things that have not changed is the behaviour of the first lady.
Mnangagwa’s wife, Auxillia, is not only following in the footsteps of her predecessor Grace Mugabe, but she is also doing so with great enthusiasm, and in a manner that has stunned onlookers.
The swashbuckling Grace, nicknamed “Gucci Grace” or “First Shopper” for her voracious appetite for frequenting high-end fashion outlets in world capitals, hogged the limelight between 2014 and 2017, bringing to the fore her meddlesome character, yet in the end accelerated the demise of her husband.
Auxillia seems to be on a mission to outdo Grace, but she denies mimicking her predecessor.
“I’m different from her (Grace) I don’t do what she used to do. I’m focussing on humanitarian work, I’m focussing on health issues and I am the ambassador of health. It’s unfortunate to compare me with Grace, she never used to do what I’m doing, I’m spending my time at the rural areas talking about health issues,” she said.
Mnangagwa early last year warned Auxillia not to meddle in government business at a function where Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga’s wife, Marry, was holding the annual Mushamukadzi Charitable Foundation fundraising dinner for cancer awareness projects. The foundation was then taken over by Auxillia.
“Just a few months ago, we had interfaces (rallies), where both the (former) first lady and the President were talking. We don’t want that to be repeated. Let it be a platform which is mine and my vice-presidents only and not for the ladies. It’s wrong,” he said then. But it seems the advice fell on deaf ears or at the very least has been forgotten. Auxillia is now under the spotlight for overstepping her boundaries.
State media cameras have been trailing her everywhere she goes. She has enjoyed widespread coverage to the extent that social media comics have joked that there should be a reality show titled Keeping up with Auxillia Mnangagwa.
Her actions have been dramatised in a manner which evokes the expression that there is a thin line between humility and vanity.
Such a simple errand as buying tomatoes by the roadside has been turned into headline news, while her resignation as a member of parliament was last year was turned into a cringe-worthy spectacle as female constituents threw themselves to the ground, rolling and wailing before the cameras. Auxillia is now a permanent fixture in the health sector, intervening in the operations of health institutions and parastatals under the ministry, and sometimes relegating the Health minister Obadiah Moyo to a mere bystander.
The Health ministry has complied by allowing her to control its programmes and interfere with its mandate, naming her a “health and child care ambassador”.
Auxillia does not have a professional background in the medical field. Her qualifications are in tourism and business management.
Since 2017, Auxillia has shown interest in the health sector, visiting hospitals and plunging health practitioners into fear.
She justified these visits by saying she wanted to assess how ordinary people access health services.
In a recent shocker, the first lady descended on the National Pharmaceutical Company (Natpharm), interrogating the executive on how medicines are distributed, and questioning why the government wholesaler had medicines in its warehouse.
In reaction to the visit, minister Moyo gave Natpharm directors a one-week ultimatum to disburse medicines to various health institutions or risk losing their jobs.
As a medical practitioner, the minister took a cue from a tourism graduate and did not consider the processes and considerations pertaining to the dispensing of medicines. Some drugs, for instance, cannot be safely dispensed in the absence of certain sundries or equipment.
Auxillia studied in the Environment and Tourism department at the University of Zimbabwe, left for Switzerland two years later, and graduated in Hotel and Tourism Administration in 2001.
Auxillia was also accused of trying to usurp power from her husband after she met with striking doctors at the beginning of the year to try and break an impasse between disgruntled doctors and government.
While Auxillia was meeting with the doctors, the President was “busy” taking part in a clean-up campaign.
Auxillia’s control has also extended to the office of the President where she has proven that she has the power to control her husband’s schedule, making appointments for Mnangagwa with the knowledge of his office.
The first lady, just like Grace, has been accused of interfering with Zanu PF party businesses where phone call recordings blamed her for the fissures that had erupted in the Youth League, resulting in votes of no confidence being passed on some members of the executive.
Recordings of her threatening to confront mobile network operators over tariff hikes at a gathering in Masvingo province were also leaked, with questions regarding what capacity she was making those threats.
Auxillia describes herself as a farmer who grew up in rural Chiweshe near Rosa Business Centre. That is where she attained both primary and secondary education.
After completing her secretarial studies at Silveira House in Chishawasha, she joined the Ministry of Manpower Development in 1981 which was under the supervision of the late Edgar Tekere.
Reports say she joined the then Prime Minister’s office. It was during this period that she is reported to have worked at the Sheraton Hotel (now Rainbow Towers) as a security officer. She was with the Central Intelligence Organisation until 1997. She later attained a Master of Business Administration degree from the Midlands State University.
Although Auxillia has tried to justify her behaviour, saying she has not overstepped her mandate, her actions are not in sync with the actions of other first ladies in the world.
For example, South African president Cyril Ramaphosa’s wife Tshepo Motsepe— a qualified doctor who obtained Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degrees from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and is a Harvard graduate—does not interfere with government programmes.
Motsepe focusses on charity work and is involved with a number of non-profit organisations which help children with their studies. Another example is former United States first lady Michelle Obama. A lawyer by profession and Ivy League graduate, she committed herself to nutrition and fitness programmes to fight obesity among the younger generation.
“In the end, as First Lady, this isn’t just a policy issue for me. This is a passion. This is my mission. I am determined to work with folks across this country to change the way a generation of kids thinks about food and nutrition,” Obama says on the website of her Let’s Move movement.
The movement was about putting children on the path to a healthy future during their earliest months and years, giving parents helpful information and fostering environments that support healthy choices, providing healthier foods in American schools and helping children become more physically active among other issues.
She also launched the Reach Higher Initiative, a programme to inspire young people across America to take charge of their future by completing their education past high school.