Harvard scrambles to distance itself from honour to Zimbabwe's first lady

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The Global Health Catalyst (GHC) group has “clarified” its honouring of Zimbabwe’s first lady Auxillia Mnangagwa hours after several US diplomats wrote to ask it to rescind the honour. A Daily Maverick report says at the same time, Harvard University has distanced itself from the programme that has so readily been using its name.

Global Health Catalyst reacted immediately after a storm erupted about its decision to appoint Mnangagwa an honourary ambassador for its health cases. The report says that it took down its entire website, and replaced it with the following statement: “Neither Her Excellency Auxillia Mnangagwa nor any other person is appointed an ambassador, honourary or otherwise of any Harvard entity. In addition, the Global Health Catalyst programme and its representatives are not authorised to speak on behalf of Harvard University or Harvard Medical School or any other institution.”

The report notes that GHC is based in Boston, and is involved in “catalysing high impact international collaborations and initiatives to eliminate global health disparities, with (the) main focus on non-communicable diseases like cancer”.

Jeffrey Smith, founding director of US-based lobby group Vanguard Africa, pointed out that US academic institutions were routinely used by “anti-democratic, wholly authoritarian regimes abroad to ivory-wash their otherwise horrendous records on human rights and governance, including in domestic propaganda”.

It was earlier reported in the Daily Maverick that Zimbabwe was buzzing about the naming, by Harvard of Auxillia Mnangagwa as special ambassador. Mnangagwa is the founder of the Angel of Hope Foundation and also happens to be married to Emmerson Mnangagwa, Zimbabwe’s president. The foundation is “built of the strong African Traditional and Christian values of love and unity” and is aimed at improving the lives and health of “vulnerable” groups by focusing on issues like, among others, fighting HIV/Aids, cancer, child abuse, early marriages, and drug abuse.

The report says she had met faculty members, including Global Health Catalyst director, Doctor Wilfred Ngwa, ahead of the UN General Assembly in New York to discuss these collaborations, which include developing an app to provide peer support for cancer patients, and a “point-of-care holographic platform” for cervical cancer screening. A Global Health-care summit will also be organised in Zimbabwe aimed at “reducing global health disparities”.

The report says the former US diplomats, including at least seven retired ambassadors, referred to the alleged abductions reported by domestic and international human rights organisations of at least 50 government critics and activists, most recently, and ironically, that of a medical doctor, Peter Magombeyi. As president of the Zimbabwe Hospital DoctorsAssociation, he was leading protests for better wages for health workers when he “disappeared” on 14 September, the night of Mugabe’s official funeral service. He surfaced five days later at the side of a road, disorientated and allegedly suffering from torture. His attempts to travel to South Africa for medical treatment for suspected liver damage have been blocked by riot police, with human rights campaigners saying that authorities feared that an examination by South African doctors would reveal that Magombeyi was tortured.

The US diplomats said the kind of honour bestowed on Auxillia Mnangagwa should be “reserved for those who are truly deserving of such recognition”.

Daily Maverick report Daily Maverick report

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