Zimbabwe adds ‘grace’ to its intellectual successes

I HAVE always shared the popular view that Zimbabwean First Lady Grace Mugabe’s strengths do not lie in the realm of the intellect.

By Mia Swart, South African Law Professor

I associated her with frivolous pursuits such as shopping extravaganzas in Paris and trips to the Jimmy Choo store in Sandton. The art of swiping the credit card, I thought, was her special brand of diplomacy.

How wrong I was.

In recent days I learnt, admittedly with astonishment, that she is an intellect of note.

Clearly, there is more to her than meets the eye.

According to media reports, she earned her PhD at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) in only two months.

Her thesis, according to the state-owned Herald newspaper, was on the changing social structure and functions of the family, with a focus on orphanages.

On second thought, however, Mugabe’s achievement does not seem so unlikely.

Throughout the ages, great minds have achieved intellectual feats in no time at all. Handel famously composed The Messiah in only three weeks. Our own first ladies would do well to look to the north for intellectual inspiration.

But Grace’s achievements do not end here. Her cosmopolitan academic background is evident from the fact that she earned a degree through a Chinese university in 2011. She is truly a global citizen, a woman for all seasons.

A lesser known fact about the talented First Lady is that she once studied English Literature through correspondence at the prestigious University of London.

Admittedly, her marks were less than stellar. For Explorations in Literature I, she obtained 9%, 18% for Explorations in Literature II, and 17% for Renaissance Comedy: Shakespeare and Jonson. The next year, she repeated the three subjects, but again failed two of them.

Mugabe’s marks clearly did not reflect her insights and true abilities. But it is well-known that some of the greatest intellects in history did not always translate into academic achievement. Urban legend has it that even Albert Einstein failed a few exams in his youth.

It is only natural that she would under-achieve considering the fact that she pursued her studies through an institution of the former coloniser. She simply made an error in judgment to register through the University of London.

According to recent media reports, President Robert Mugabe is grooming his wife to take over from him, which is only fitting. With her astonishing efficiency, she is bound to speed up the pace of social change and the land reform process. He has, after all, always been a man who recognises talent when he sees it.

He rescued Grace from a life of obscurity as a typist and propelled her into the highest circles and most sophisticated shoe shops in the world.

A first lady makes history; she does not need to study history. She was clearly misunderstood. In fact, she has complained before about being fundamentally misunderstood. In a rare interview, she revealed: “I’m not really what they say I am, I’m actually surprised to hear some of the things they say; that she’s a lazy person; she’s always eating. I don’t go for all these massages.”

As is so often the case with the gifted, there is much behind the surface of these words. Those who criticised her for the lightning speed with which she obtained her degree must have acted out of envy and frustration. They clearly also misunderstand her. But lesser beings have always resented the success of those with superior intellect.

In South Africa’s crisis in higher education, there is an urgent need for more PhDs — university administrators here should turn to Mugabe for advice. Having taken five years to earn my PhD, her success makes me feel deeply inadequate. I will certainly advise my post-graduate students to look at her example for inspiration.

Unfortunately, not much is known about her thesis. When asked for copies, the UZ said it would be available only in a year’s time. But the fact that she wrote on orphanages, indicates her sympathy for the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalised.

No wonder she recently received a “Philantropist of the Year” award.

Zimbabwe has the highest number of HIV and Aids orphans in the world. Nearly a third of all children in Zimbabwe are orphans. The horrific rate of infant mortality is worsened by malnutrition and a decline in immunisation due to a lack of funds.

Mugabe made a faulty selection. Instead of choosing Renaissance Comedy, she should have chosen Renaissance Tragedy. It is the convention that Shakespearean tragedies end with the death of almost all characters. Something is rotten in the state of Zimbabwe.

Swart is professor of international law at the University of Johannesburg.


12 Responses to Zimbabwe adds ‘grace’ to its intellectual successes

  1. Jimmy Makamba October 20, 2014 at 2:31 pm #

    Mia Swart, you are very right my dear. Your very last statement: ” Something is rotten in the state of Zimbabwe” needs to be taken seriously. Previously our politicians managed to blow smoke over the international community but right now every foreigner knows that Zimbabwean politicians are a bunch of crooks with no morals whatsoever. Its high time Zimbabweans stood up to the plate and demand an end to all this nonsense that is happening on the socio-political sphere!

  2. mado October 20, 2014 at 4:01 pm #

    you took 5 full years to get a PhD, yet Grace only 2 months, you must the dumbest person in the world, hahahahahahahahahaha, or maybe she is the most intelligent person in the world, which is shocking considering she once failed several courses in a correspondence program, maybe she was too busy to do her homework, or maybe it was Bona who was doing her assignments for her. very confusing if you ask me, kkkkkkkkkkkk

  3. Wasu October 20, 2014 at 5:23 pm #

    Never judge someone because they sin differently than you.

  4. Jedster October 22, 2014 at 9:54 am #

    I hope this is a tongue-in-cheek opinion piece, or she clearly doesn’t see the reality

    • samanyika October 24, 2014 at 10:33 am #

      it is actually. cant u read??

      • Jedster October 24, 2014 at 3:18 pm #

        I can, can’t you type properly?

  5. John October 22, 2014 at 12:10 pm #

    Found a place you can watch all the latest zim videos. ZimSpark.com

  6. Amanda Kilimanjaro October 23, 2014 at 2:17 pm #

    uz needs to clear the air and release all her academic records, zimbabwe will be the laughing stock of the world if there is no transparency on this matter

  7. kalulu October 23, 2014 at 7:44 pm #

    well written piece of work, i have no doubt that thefirst lady will like it i hope in response to this inspirational article she will shade more light on when she is likely to complete her doctoral thesis for publication thus putting all the doubters and critiquesto shame once and for all.

  8. Choma October 29, 2014 at 5:17 am #

    Amazing Grace???

  9. mdawini October 31, 2014 at 8:35 am #

    What a great piece. Just enjoyed the satire. It would have been funny had it not been tragic. If a country counts someone like Grace and her not so hidden intellect or lack thereof among its cream of the academic crop, surely they deserve to have a nonageritarian who most likely is demented for a president. that in

  10. Mhepo November 3, 2014 at 9:53 am #

    A very good article. The sad thing if Grace was to read this she would be so happy. It would take her days to recognise the sacarsim in the article. You are absolutely right about there being something rotten in Zimbabwe. What a tragedy. The Empress is naked. My favourite childhood story on the Emporer! Grace actually believes she has a Phd and that the society in Zimbabwe love her! Least like her. Sad case!

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