By Tendai Chabvuta
On 16 February the Herald newspaper announced that the First Lady Auxilia Mnangagwa would be carrying out a national competition to train Zimbabweans on the use and preparation of traditional foods to improve their health and also fight the coronavirus pandemic.
The Herald report hailed the competition as some version of the world-renowned MasterChef. To the uninitiated this would be a noble idea indeed from the one who calls herself the “mother of nation”. But that cannot be true – the initiative is naïve, insensitive to the plight of Zimbabweans and some puerile grandstanding of someone who does not understand the nation’s problems but is hellbent on proving some strain of stubbornness and arrogance.
The activity the First Lady is spearheading dubbed “Amai’s Traditional Cookout Competition” is first of all nothing but a plagiarized version of a program that was introduced by Michelle Obama when she was still in the White House.
Michelle fought several intelligent battles to turn around the fast-food industry that was significantly contributing to the unhealthy meals American children were consuming. The initiative led to nutritious schools meals being introduced and misleading adverts being banned from television and radio channels.
Secondly, the First Lady seems to want to suggest that Zimbabweans simply need to be able to prepare the traditional dishes and that would be it. That is simply not the case! The majority of Zimbabweans live under the poverty datum line and cannot afford even the most basic of foods to make these so-called nutritious meals she is harping about.
There is a very misleading assumption that traditional foods are abundantly available and people can just pick them and prepare meals. Has she ever done a quick survey to understand how much some of these so called “traditional” foods cost on the streets, supermarkets, and veggie shops around the country? The issue is not that Zimbabweans do not know what eating healthy means or how those meals should be prepared. They simply cannot afford the meals.
Then, there is the whole issue of accountability. The first family seems to have this notion that they have these “Offices” in the President’s office and that they are part of the leadership that governs Zimbabwe. They seem to be oblivious of the fact that it is only her husband and their father who is in the Executive.
So, a simple question would be, where are these funds being used to gallivant across the country coming from to hold these cooking competitions? Who even holds her accountable for the expenditure of those funds especially if they are public funds? How much exactly is being expended to cater for such? One hopes that the funds are not coming from the national fiscus.
Add Covid 19 to this whole circus, then it will be a cocktail for disaster. Zimbabwe is currently under a lockdown until the 1st of March with inter provincial travel restricted and only necessary travel allowed. Instead of leading by example and staying at home, the First Lady is scoring firsts in every way by moving around the country with her security, media, and office entourage.
For what and to achieve what really? – Super spreader Covid 19 events blessed with a tinge of Presidential power – that is what the events are simply are. Surely, should the First Lady be playing MasterChef games in the middle of a debilitating economic and health crisis in the country?
The issue of hunger and nutrition in Zimbabwe does not need all these “Mother this – mother that” antics. The problem needs to be dealt with from a point of food production which hopefully will be achieved through the Pfumvudza concept. Then there is the whole scenario of urban hunger and poverty which the whole government and Amai seem not to address.
The best advice for Amai Auxilia Mnangagwa would be for her to talk to her husband and ask him to boost the buying power of Zimbabweans, stabilize the economy as well as deliver on the “Jobs Jobs Jobs” mantra that he promised when he got into office.
She might also need to look at her handlers and the people that advise her because honestly they are sleeping on the job and leading her astray.