By Tafi Mhaka
The Organisation of African First Ladies for Development (OAFLAD) last week officially appointed First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa as its new vice-president at a ceremony held at the Burkina Faso Embassy in the United States. Upon formally accepting this most obscure appointment, she straightaway lied to the world.
Sounding ambassadorial, Mnangagwa promised to ‘direct the attention of all our members to key focus areas that need urgent attention especially gender-based violence (GBV), child marriages, HIV in newborns, non-communicable diseases (NCDS) and sustainable empowerment of women and youth’. She even suggested that Africa’s first ladies must avoid a ‘business as usual approach’ and ‘start focusing on agendas 2030 and 2063 respectively’.
Had the First Lady been a Harare-based stand-up comedian, performing at 7 Arts Theatre on a fun-filled Saturday night, her presentation might have received a standing ovation, because she sounded extremely divorced from the banana republic reality Zimbabweans breathe and die under every day.
Does the ‘business as usual’ part include meddling in industrial strikes by junior medical doctors obstructively, unnecessarily, as Mnangagwa did in January? Does it include intimidating ZNA soldiers, as heard on a leaked conversation? Does it include squandering massive amounts of foreign currency on wasteful jaunts abroad, as Mnangagwa and her entourage did last week in New York?
The First Lady’s been praised for distributing ‘goodies’ at children’s homes, old people’s homes and hospitals. Still, however noble, the supposedly charitable visits, in reality mediocre PR stunts and shabby sparks of short-lived, televised relief, don’t blunt the stench of dead flesh engulfing the Second Republic.
But they do, in fact, advance a toxic conflation of tradition and politics, and promote a dubious ‘super father and mother’ mentality amongst Zanu-PF elites. And they implant a counterproductive culture of reckless entitlement and idle expectancy amongst disadvantaged sections of society.
Indeed, the outlandish epidemic of second-rate politicians giving away food, clothes and agricultural implements, just to appear vastly responsive to people’s basic needs on TV, devalues and distorts the complex demands of modern leadership. That is the tragedy of Zimbabwe’s extensive political struggle, as espoused by the fully unelected, ‘ever-busy’, meddlesome First Lady. Zanu-PF politicians and senior civil servants retain an enduring proclivity to dress up, smile for cameras and spew patriotic drivel shamelessly and endlessly.
To be sure, the First Lady, in nearly 24 months, has displayed an incredibly stubborn and arrogant understanding of civil service that is steeped in loyalty to political denialism and patriarchal obfuscation. Travelling to New York, without a discernible constituency to represent and answer to, only to deliver an inconsequential, truth-starved speech, right as Zimbabwe flounders economically, is backward, selfish and distastefully insulting.
There Mnangagwa stood, basking in the vapid glory of staged admiration, supposedly promoting the extinguished dreams of Robert Maphosa, husband of Sylvia Maphosa, shot to death by ZNA soldiers in Harare. There she stood, well-fed, well-dressed and joyful, apparently representing the eternal anguish of Julius Choto, father of murdered youth Kelvin Tinashe Choto.
There she stood, proudly Zimbabwean, pontificating senselessly about rights and sustainable ways of empowering women like Stabile Dewah, a human rights activist charged with treason for attending a public activism seminar in the Maldives. Indeed, there she was, milking Zimbabwe’s coffers dry of scarce foreign currency, all to enjoy a moment of officious duplicity in upmarket New York.
Why did Mnangagwa fly to America, land of the ‘whites’ Zanu-PF hates so much, to promise to help women from Rusape, Lupane and Chivhu? Why didn’t she visit the youths orphaned by the murderous actions of ZNA soldiers during the August 1 2018 and January 14 2019 demonstrations? No First Lady of ours is obliged to travel to New York merely to grandstand at the expense of hardpressed taxpayers.
OFLAD claims the ultimate aim of its “interventions is the realisation of the rights of women, men, girls and boys and vulnerable groups, as articulated in national, regional and international conventions and declarations”. Why hasn’t Mnangagwa been promoting the above mentioned human rights in both MDC-A and Zanu-PF strongholds?
The First Lady has long displayed selective moral outrage and been visibly silent on the many incidents of torture, violence, enforced disappearances and illegal deaths committed by her husband’s repressive regime.
Zimbabwe’s youths, women and men don’t need a glorified, jet-setting, maternal appendage of despotic rule to pretentiously articulate their obvious struggles in New York. They need a duly elected president, with the requisite will, organisational resolve and intellectual capacity to implement political change, to replace Mnangagwa’s husband.
Tafi Mhaka is a Johannesburg-based writer and commentator. His debut novel, Mutserendende: The African in Us, is scheduled for release in 2020. Follow him on @tafimhaka / tafi.mhaka