HARARE – When Barrack Obama was on his way to become the first black President of the United States, his wife Michele and daughters were in the spotlight.
While over the years we have been presented with First Ladies, the world has been dazzled by Michele’s charisma and character.
In the media, she has been portrayed as a caring mother -— raising two daughters, and taking care of the US president.
Apart from the charity work she is doing, her appearance alongside Obama at many State functions has catapulted her First Lady status.
Unlike wife of the first US President (George Washington), Martha Washington did not enjoy her time (1789 to1797) as First Lady as she had not supported his candidacy for the presidency, hence could not attend his inauguration, Michele’s status has turned glamorous as her designer clothes and shoes are on demand as a result. Talk of commercial influence!
In an insightful study The Concept of First Lady and Politics in Nigeria Kunle Ajayi remarks: “The First Lady’s office has had a revolutionary transformation in Nigerian politics since Babangida’s military presidency. Successive First Ladies, particularly Maryam Babangida, Maryam Abacha and Stella Obasanjo, have jettisoned the traditional inactiveness hither to associated with the office to play a vanguard role in feminist advocacies.
“These First Ladies have utilised their offices and pet projects as gender-mainstreaming platforms to negotiate the corridor of power for women. The impetus for this study was propelled by the need to evaluate the value of the phenomena of the transformed First Lady’s office and the gap closing interventionist programmes geared towards mitigating women’s marginalisation and their oppression in politics in Nigeria.”
Zimbabwe has not seen many First Ladies as we have had one president since independence in 1980.
President Robert Mugabe’s first wife, Sally was known as a motherly figure and her dressing epitomised her traditional African culture.
Sally was a darling to poor women and children and, enjoyed talking and listening to their concerns.
When Sally died, Grace came in as First Lady and she is known for her beauty and flamboyance.
There was however, much talk about her educational shortcomings and sense of style.
Wearing natural dreadlocks, Grace has done a lot for Danhiko Children’s Home, and has built two state-of-the-art schools in Zimbabwe.
As part of the Gushungo dynasty, she is heavily involved in the running of her family’s businesses that includes a dairy.
The other women that have been in the political limelight because of their husbands are Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s late wife Susan, who died in a car accident, and now his new wife Elizabeth Macheka has been accompanying the Premier to important assignments.
As we approach election time it is interesting to see the role that Grace and Elizabeth will play to motivate voters to vote for their respective husbands.
Joy Mabenge a political analyst told the Daily News that Grace and Elizabeth’s presence during campaign periods will bring a sense of family.
“The First Lady and the PM’s wife should portray a motherly figure wherever they are. During this campaign period they should be rolling out their roles as mothers and peace-makers. We are in a deep crisis and I believe that the two should provide guidance and be peace brokers.
“They are looked upon by communities and children as role models. Elizabeth has been performing her duties well since she became the PM’s wife. She was seen visiting victims of politically-motivated violence. She is expected to play a motherly role and true to form, she has been seen giving to the less fortunate. Zimbabweans need protection from both women.”
Mabege said Grace was caught offside in 2008 when she threatened that the country would plunge into war if Zanu PF failed to win.
“As the wife of a head of State we do not look forward to her saying such things. We hope during this election she will play out her motherly role.”
Rabison Shumba, a motivational speaker said women form an integral part of a man’s life.
“Most of the people who succeed as leaders in any sector be it business, church, politics and so forth have a strong support from their wives back home.
“Yes, men tend to take the limelight but real power is from the wife. Women can help with speech writing, counsel, encouragement and also by being there on the campaign journey in person.
“Likewise men should do the same if their wives are also running for office. A man can also play a supporting role. It does not take anything away from him. I am a strong believer in couples doing things together. Many would like to shy away from being in the thick of things because political domain is concerned to be a “dirty” platform. However, if your husband gets his hands dirty out in the field, you still face the brunt of his decision to be involved. In summary -— nemumvura mese naye.”
Bishop Trevor Manhanga said the First Ladies take many different forms, but primarily they are there to lend support to their husbands’ candidature.
“It depends on what her husband and party wants her to do but I feel she should not be under pressure to answer matters relating to policy for example. That can be put to her husband.
“Like I said, she needs to be up to speed with the general thrust of what her husband and party are advocating but she is a support she is not playing the lead role.”
Manhanga added that women married to powerful politicians usually offer moral and emotional support. “Politics can be brutal and very critical.
She needs to be the major source of encouragement to her husband and also be the one who can tell him honestly how he is being perceived. She should be able to tell him the truth and not delude him or allow him to live in delusion. She should also protect him from female predators always waiting in the wings.”
The Bishop concluded: “The role of First Lady is not an easy one, she must be given the freedom to be herself and pursue her dreams.
“While she is married to the person who occupies the higrghest office in the land, that does not mean she must be a dummgry or zombie. She must also understand that because of the office she holds she has the opportunity to be a force for tremendous good because of the doors that are opened to her so she should use that leverage and make a difference.”