One of the reasons given by the military for ousting former president Robert Mugabe in 2017 was that he was allowing his wife Grace to run government affairs in violation of the constitution.
Grace, who was the leader of the ruling Zanu PF’s women’s league at the time, had taken an active interest in the battle to succeed her husband and was locked in a fierce battle with then vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Six years after the long-serving ruler’s dramatic exit and Mnangagwa’s ascendancy to the presidency, history seems to be repeating itself as the president’s wife appears to be taking a more active role in the affairs of the country.
Auxilia, a former Zanu PF parliamentarian, recently returned from a trip to Belarus where she met that country’s President Alexander Lukashenko and other senior government officials in Minsk.
The high profile visit that received scant coverage in the state -controlled media locally was covered extensively in the East European country, has stirred debate in Zimbabwe amid suggestions she is repeating Grace’s mistakes.
Auxilia was accompanied by her sons Collins and Sean. The three were photographed several times attending the same meetings in Belarus.
The images reignited debate about the first family’s involvement in government business.
In February, the president’s son Emmerson Jr, attended a high-level State House meeting of Zimbabwe's top government officials and Lukashenko, who was on a state visit.
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Emmerson Jr also followed up this by being part of the high-level delegation led by his father that visited Equatorial Guinea to discuss and negotiate business opportunities that same month.
While the Zimbabwean government has remained mum about the trio’s trip to Belarus, Lukashenko revealed that the visit was organised to discuss government to government business.
“Dear Mrs Auxillia Mnangagwa, as we agreed with the president, you are in Belarus today on a very important visit,” Lukashenko said as posted on the official president of Belarus website.
“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.”
The Belarus excursion was, however, not the first time the first lady has travelled to meet government leaders in other countries.
A quick check by The Standard shows that Mnangagwa’s wife has travelled on several trips in the company of government officials across the globe meeting foreign diplomats.
During the same week of her visit to Belarus Auxillia was also represented by Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry deputy minister Barbara Rwodzi during the XXIV Yasin International academic conference on economic and social development in Russia.
In November last year, Auxillia spent a week in Iran where she met the Iran Foreign Affairs minister and university leaders, among other diplomats to “unlock” opportunities for young women in the country.
In December last year, the first lady held talks with Russian deputy prime minister Tatiana Golikova on areas of cooperation, which included health care and education.
Locally, Auxillia has also been officially opening government events.
In late May 2022, Auxillia officially opened the African Elephant Conference, which was held in Hwange.
Despite the first lady being a patron of environmental, climate, tourism and hospitality industry causes, critics argued that she took over a government function as the conference was an inter-state meeting attended by ministers from 14 African countries.
Political analysts said Mnangagwa was running the government as a private entity which had resulted in the First Lady “overstepping” her duties.
“That is the problem with dictators, they manipulate the constitution,” analyst Rejoice Ngwenya said.
“There is no role that was put in the statutes for the first lady on government business.”
Ngwenya said Mnangagwa has personalised government affairs.
“That is why we have offices such as that of the ambassador-at large, which shows a misunderstanding and a total confusion of what governance is about,” Ngwenya said.
“A first lady of a country has no official role. From what allocation is her responsibility?
“When she gets there, who deploys her? Is it the Foreign Affairs ministry or which ministry?”
Political analyst Dumisani Nkomo said Auxillia’s role should be ceremonial and limited to ribbon-cutting events.
“Globally, the role of the first lady is ornamental and not official,” Nkomo said.
“It must not be functional, where she goes out of the country on official business.
“Her role should be that of cutting ribbons, visiting orphanages or other charity roles, not being at the forefront of government business.”
Another analyst Vivid Gwede said Mnangagwa’s government was fast copying the late Mugabe’s script where his wife appeared to be having a say in government matters.
“Funds cannot be commanded to any arbitrary ends by such a personage,” Gwede said.
“We should remember that oversteps by Grace were central to some of the challenges that beset the Mugabe administration in its twilight days.”
Auxillia, the former Chirumanzu-Zibagwe legislator has been celebrated in government for philanthropy through her Angel of Hope Foundation, which has seen her being awarded various accolades.
In 2021, Mnangagwa awarded Auxillia the Order of the Star of Zimbabwe gold medal for her “outstanding performance” in philanthropic activities.
Critics said this was laughable, and argued that the first lady uses humanitarian issues, diplomacy and fundraising to interfere in government business.
A highly placed government official who spoke to The Standard on condition of anonymity said the Information ministry did not have the authority to speak on matters involving the first lady.
“The Information ministry can’t speak about the first lady,” the official said.
“The President’s Office can speak on her behalf.
“Please it must never be known that I spoke to you on the issue of the first lady. I will be in deep trouble.”
However, Mnangagwa spokesperson George Charamba recently defended the first lady’s trip to Belarus.
“Mai Mnangagwa, the first lady of Zimbabwe, does not need your say-so to fundraise for humanitarian ends, to serve her country and the underprivileged in her country, to support her husband and to reinforce her country’s engagement and re-engagement thrust,” Charamba angrily said on Twitter where he uses the pseudonym Tinoedza Zvimwe.
“Zimbabwe will mobilise all her resources, including her soft power to ensure she achieves her goals, including checkmating the negativity generated by the yellow opposition.
“No compliments are expected from that oppositional quarter, more so when the first lady quietly opposes and undermines your anti-nation campaign.”
Auxillia’s influence also stretches to the day to day running of the country, according to Mnangagwa’s ambassador at large, Uebert “Angel” Mudzanire who was caught on camera by Al Jazeera’s investigative unit journalists posing as gangsters seeking assistance to launder US$1,2 billion.”
“The wife controls everything,” Angel says after his call with the first lady.
One of the undercover reporters says “She is number one?” and he says “yes” using non-verbal communication.