First Lady Grace Mugabe silenced former Higher and Tertiary Education minister Olivia Muchena from discussing her controversial doctorate in public, Zanu PF politburo minutes seen by the Zimbabwe Independent show.
By Wongai Zhangazha
Grace was awarded a controversial PhD by the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) in September 2014, in what was widely seen as an unprecedented academic scandal of monumental proportions in Zimbabwe. She was among the 3 274 graduands capped by her husband President Robert Mugabe, who is also the chancellor of the UZ, with a PhD in Social Studies.
The Independent then unearthed that the First Lady was awarded the doctorate despite not fulfilling procedures which PhD candidates go through as her records were not available. Her thesis was also not available at the UZ library unlike other candidates, including former vice-president Joice Mujuru, who graduated on the same day with Grace.
According to minutes of a Zanu PF politburo meeting held on October 30 2014, seen by the Independent, Muchena, who was also the Zanu PF secretary for science and technology, was silenced by the First Lady after she made moves to clarify the matter.
According to the minutes, Zanu PF politburo member Jonathan Moyo, then a committee member, expressed concern over private media’s reportage of Grace’s dubious PhD which he even tried to defend in public.
“On a different note, he (Moyo) said that the private media was on a smear campaign to demonise the First Lady. He urged the secretary for science and technology to correct some of the misconceptions surrounding the academic qualifications of the First Lady,” the politburo minutes read.
However, Muchena, responding to Moyo’s request, said efforts to clarify the degree had hit a brick wall as Grace did not want the issue to be discussed.
“In her comments, the secretary for science and technology reported that efforts to put into correct perspective issues surrounding the First Lady’s doctorate were halted after consultations. She said that the First Lady had instructed that the matter should not be discussed in public,” the minutes say.
The decision to award Grace a PhD was strongly criticised by academics, including UZ lecturers, students, the civil society and ordinary Zimbabweans.
Soon after her graduation, the Zimbabwe National Students Union called for a thorough investigation into how she acquired the PhD and demanded the resignations of those involved in the decision, including UZ Vice-Chancellor Professor Levi Nyagura who failed to explain the scandal.
The student’s body also wrote a letter to the Parliamentary Portfolio Select Committee for Higher Education, which was copied to the Speaker of Parliament Jacob Mudenda, Muchena and Nyagura asking for investigations into the circumstances under which Grace was awarded the doctorate.
Academics such as Dr Ibbo Mandaza said Grace’s controversial PhD would damage UZ’s reputation, its academics and its alumni. He challenged the UZ to explain how the First Lady was awarded the doctorate. Neither Muchena nor Nyagura responded to media queries and the public demand for an explanation. It has since emerged that Grace ordered officials to remain silent over the issue hoping the protests would just die down and the scandal forgotten.
Information obtained by the Independent at the time showed Grace initially registered for an MPhil in 2012, but was upgraded by her supervisor to a DPhil programme.
This implies that when Grace registered as an MPhil student, she must have had a good pass in an honours degree with at least an upper second class (2.1) pass. Those close to the issue said after failing at the University of London a few years ago, she enrolled with a Chinese university and obtained an undergraduate degree.
But considering Grace’s poor performance at the University of London where she was eventually deregistered after failing most of her (BA English) examinations in 2004, it is highly unlikely she had an honours degree with quality grades to qualify for an MPhil.
In terms of UZ requirements, for an MPhil a candidate must have a good pass in an honours degree with at least an upper second class or an approved equivalent and the minimum duration of study is two years for a full-time student and three years for a part-time student.
A DPhil candidate requires a good master’s degree. An MPhil student who excels can, however, have his or her studies upgraded to DPhil. This only happens in exceptional circumstances where the student is distinguished.
Even then the minimum for a DPhil full-time student is three years and four years for part-time studies. Senior academics at the UZ said Grace did not meet the requirements, while she also did not spend the basic minimum time studying at UZ, making her acquisition of the PhD unprocedural and fraudulent.
Grace completed her first degree in Chinese Language in 2011 after four years of distance learning with the People’s University of China.