Zimbabwe’s succession puzzle took a surprising twist last weekend after first lady Grace Mugabe and vice-president Joice Mujuru both graduated with doctorates from the University of Zimbabwe.
Mugabe’s new qualification, DPhil degree, has been widely met with outrage and allegations of having been earned in an unorthodox way.
In 2001 the Standard newspaper reported that she had failed examinations written for a University of London bachelor of arts degree in English. She eventually earned her first degree through the People’s University of China.
A number of media outlets also alleged that she had registered for the doctorate only a few months before she was capped at the ceremony by her husband, President Robert Mugabe, who is also the chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe.
The new qualification is also seen as giving Grace academic credentials that would come in handy if she contests for Zanu-PF’s vice-presidency at the party congress in December.
Leadership role in Zanu-PF
Grace has recently been endorsed by the Zanu-PF Women’s League, the Zanu-PF Youth League and traditional chiefs to assume a leadership role in the party.
The youth league this week suggested that Grace should try her hand at the vice-presidency.
“If women said they want you to lead them, as youth what can we say? We want you at the top position, even in the presidium,” Justice Mayor Wadyajena, the Gokwe-Nembudziya MP, told party supporters.
Grace’s apparent rival, Vice-President Joice Mujuru, who is widely viewed as a frontrunner to succeed Mugabe as president, also graduated with a doctorate under the faculty of commerce at the same ceremony.
Mujuru holds a master’s degree in strategic management from the Chinhoyi University of Technology.
The two women, although worlds apart, have a common history in the women’s league, which has been key to their rise.
Ahead of the Zanu-PF elective congress in 2004, it was the league that canvassed for the party to appoint Mujuru as vice-president.
It was also the women’s league that first pushed for Grace to be given higher office by asking her to head the body ahead of the congress later this year.
In the same way that Mujuru’s late husband, Solomon “Rex Nhongo” Mujuru, was said to have engineered the elevation of his wife, the same manoeuvring is allegedly being done by Mugabe for Grace, according to senior party sources.
But Mujuru, who is a politician in her own right, has a long career as a government minister. She is one of only two leaders – the other being Defence Minister Sydney Sekeramayi – who have been in every government led by Mugabe since 1980.
She is also lauded for her role as a fearless freedom fighter, earning the nickname Teurayi Ropa (Spill Blood).
Grace, on the other hand, has held no senior government position. She worked as a typist in the president’s office before marrying him.
She has often accompanied Mugabe on government business and has earned a reputation overseas for being a big shopper.
By her own admission during last month’s women’s league conference, she said she was a political novice and needed help in navigating political waters.
But she is militant in her approach, promising to contend with those who stand in her way.
Political analyst Vivid Gwede said the entry of Grace into politics will benefit Mugabe, who will use the resulting confusion to extend his stay in office as the unifier of the party.