The controversial award of a doctorate of philosophy degree (DPhil) to first lady Grace Mugabe is part of ongoing attempts to spruce up her image and help her build a national profile as she takes her first steps into active politics. But the move has backfired badly for the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) and threatens to tarnish its good reputation.
The university is under pressure to justify the awarding of the doctorate as ordinary Zimbabweans, students, alumni and academics demand that it publish Mugabe’s thesis and reveal her registration details and the names of her supervisors.
The university’s public relations department last week promised to issue a statement but had not done so at the time of going to press.
Mugabe, the Zanu-PF Women’s League’s secretary-elect, is believed to have her sights set on high office.
She received her doctorate alongside her rival, Vice-President Joice Mujuru, but there are no questions about Mujuru’s degree – she was known to have attended classes and her thesis is on the UZ website.
Soon after Mugabe’s graduation some youths aligned to the faction in Zanu-PF led by Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa said she should be elevated to the vice-presidency.
Groomed for bigger things
Although she has almost clinched the Women’s League secretary position after Oppah Muchinguri stepped down to make way for her, political analysts believe the first lady is being groomed for bigger things and could possibly challenge Mujuru for the vice-presidency at Zanu-PF’s crucial elective congress in December.
Zanu-PF sources say Mugabe is being supported by the Mnangagwa faction as they attempt to derail the Mujuru faction, which seems to have the upper hand going to congress.
The president, who has always given the impression of aloof neutrality when it comes to bitter Zanu-PF factional fights, has been forced to side with the Mnangagwa faction as he pushes for his wife’s elevation.
Zanu-PF officials believe Mugabe wants a powerful position that will enable her to protect her vast wealth and business interests when her husband is no longer in office.
Mugabe (90) has indicated he will finish his term, which expires in 2018.
Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe National Students Union (Zinasu) told the Mail & Guardian that its investigations had established that Mugabe had been awarded a doctorate without working for it.
Zinasu president Gilbert Mutubuki said the union had written to the parliamentary portfolio committee on higher and tertiary education to demand answers.
“The reputation of UZ and the country’s education system has been seriously compromised because of the awarding of a pseudo doctorate to the first lady,” he said.
“It is a scandal that someone can just wake up from her home, wear a gown and receive a doctorate without working for it.
“We have done our investigations. We have gone to the library and engaged the sociology department, including doctors and professors and no one knows anything about her thesis. They are also very angry about it. It seems she graduated just because her husband is the [state]president and chancellor of UZ.
Questions over doctorate scandal
“A doctorate is not sexually transmitted, one has to work for it – but it seems it has been reduced to a bedroom issue. The UZ is a well-known global beacon of excellence but now the Mugabes have destroyed that reputation.”
Mutubuki said Mugabe should withdraw the doctorate. “If he wants his wife to be a doctor, why not call her Dr Grace at home?”
Political analyst and academic Dr Ibbo Mandaza, a former UZ staffer and member of the university’s executive council, said it was shocking that the university had kept quiet despite the demand for answers.
He said Zimbabweans should continue to demand answers from the university, ministry of higher and tertiary education and Mugabe – until they justify the awarding of the doctorate.
“The silence confirms people’s fears that due academic procedure was not followed and that possibly there was a breach, a serious breach,” Mandaza said.
“But they should not be allowed to keep quite. It’s a serious indictment on the vice-chancellor and the ministry of higher education. We demand a response and even an inquiry.”
Mandaza said the awarding of the doctorate was a scandal that had no precedent in the history of the university.
“I was on the executive council of the university and was also a staff member. In all cases I recall very strict adherence to regulations, including pre-entrance [qualifications].
“But in this case, we don’t even know who her examiner was. All this should be made public because this threatens the credibility of the Zimbabwean education system.
“Regrettably, the chancellor is also the head of state and husband to the purported graduand.”
Student union leader Mutubuki said students at UZ became aware that Mugabe wanted to study for a master’s degree in June this year, but were shocked to see her receive a doctorate.
Although it is unclear when Mugabe registered for the doctorate, given that the university has been refusing to divulge information, she reportedly possesses a first degree in Chinese, which she completed in 2011 after four years of distance learning with the People’s University of China.
Given that she got her first degree in 2011, questions have been asked about how she managed to get a master’s degree and then a doctorate within three years.
According to information posted on the university website, candidates who want to register for the 2014 DPhil programmes need to have a master’s degree in either philosophy, science or education.
Full-time students, according to the website, are expected to take a minimum of three years and a maximum of five years to complete their doctorates, while part-time students should take a minimum of four years and a maximum of eight years.
Mugabe was not a full-time student and would have needed to take a minimum of four years.
Grace Mugabe’s academic results
In 1998, local media reported that she failed all three subjects she was tested for at the University of London where she was studying for a bachelor of arts degree in English. She was eventually deregistered by the university after failing most of her examinations.
She failed explorations in literature I (9%), explorations in literature II (18%), and renaissance comedy: Shakespeare and Jonson (17%).
The following year she repeated the three subjects, but again failed explorations in literature I (31%), renaissance comedy: Shakespeare and Jonson (29%).
She, however, improved in explorations in literature II, gaining 42%. In the same year she attempted an additional subject, approaches to text, but failed, scoring only 7%.