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Women’s month ends on a low note

By Carol Butcher

Women’s month has ended on a low note. It is ironic that during Women’s Month, Zimbabwe’s First Lady, Grace Mugabe allegedly lashed out at a young woman, Gabriella Engels with an extension cord. The fact that Mrs Mugabe was born to Zimbabwean parents in Benoni is a double whammy – Mrs Mugabe has very strong links to South Africa. South Africans are extremely patriotic- it grieves us when anyone with South African links conducts themselves in a way that brings disrepute.

Engels had laid a charge of assault with the intention to do grievous body harm. This is not the first time that Zimbabwe’s First Lady has used physical violence. Mrs Mugabe punched Sunday Times photographer, Richard Jones in 2009, while visiting Hong Kong. The Chinese government granted Mrs Mugabe immunity from persecution under Chinese diplomatic rules. The Department of International Relations and Cooperation in South Africa has also granted Mrs Mugabe diplomatic immunity.

Besides being First Lady, Mrs Mugabe is also the Head of Zanu PF Women’s League.  As such, Mrs Mugabe is a member of the politburo. The ruling party’s young Turks, the so-called Generation 40 want her to succeed her husband, President Robert Mugabe as President when his term of office ends in 2018.

Leaders can learn a great deal from this incident and the lesson is not that if you have power, you are able to act with impunity, despite the fact that Mrs Mugabe has been able to walk away from the incident “Scot free.”

The most obvious lesson is that if you are a leader, there is no separation between your public and your private life. If you are a leader you are expected to conduct yourself in a way that is becoming of a leader – your conduct should always be beyond reproach. Failure to do so has resulted in Mrs Mugabe’s alleged misdemeanour making international headlines, worldwide for the wrong reasons. This is damaging to one’s personal reputation, one’s country’s reputation and perhaps even the way in which women leaders are perceived on the continent as a whole.

Is this of any concern to Mrs Mugabe? Probably not. Should Mrs Mugabe be concerned? Unequivocally yes. Millions of women in Zimbabwe and the continent as a whole, view women in positions of power as role models. These women are perceived to set the benchmark for personal conduct.

The incident also raises issues around power. Power is something that should always be used to do good, to empower and uplift others, and not simply to ensure that one can have one’s own way, or “get away with things”.

Mrs Mugabe has built an orphanage, and a school called Grace’s Amai High School. Construction has also begun on a university and a hospital. Acts of philanthropy are often overshadowed by negative incidents. On the weight of these two high profile incidents, when assessing Mrs Mugabe’s achievements, she may very well be remembered as DisGrace, a term used by her detractors, rather than Amai (mother), a term of endearment used by her supporters.

What a shame. We need women leaders on the continent to “step up.” As women, we want women in positions of power and leadership in Africa to be celebrated for serving as exceptional role models at all times.

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Carol has nineteen years’ experience as a professional writer, editor and case study writer. Her writing experience includes a stint as the resident Case Study Writer at the Wits Business School.


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