Former first lady Grace Mugabe, who controversially attained a Doctor of Philosophy degree at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) three years ago, faces humiliation and a corruption probe after lecturers formally complained that her doctorate is bogus as there is no credible record of her study.
By Wongai Zhangazha
Grace was awarded the “earned” degree when her husband Robert was chancellor of all state universities, but now faces disgrace as the Zimbabwe Independent can exclusively reveal that members of the UZ’s Sociology Department board have no knowledge of her proposal, progress reports, thesis examiners and outcome.
This comes as it emerged this week that the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) is probing circumstances surrounding her attainment of the degree amid concerns she did not comply with the normal procedures that other candidates are subjected to.
According to Zacc sources, UZ vice-chancellor Levi Nyagura and UZ lecturer Professor Claude Mararike, who was supposedly one of Grace’s supervisors, face arrest in the next few days over abuse of office for allegedly awarding Grace a bogus doctorate.
In a petition to Zacc, the UZ Sociology Department described the awarding of the degree as “very suspicious.”
Grace’s thesis is not yet in the public domain, three years after graduation — which goes against best practice.
Interestingly, other candidates, including former vice-president Joice Mujuru, who graduated on the same day with her, have all made their theses publicly available.
Mugabe’s wife graduated with a Doctorate in Philosophy from the Faculty of Social Studies in September 2014. Grace was among 3 274 graduands who were capped by her husband, the then president and chancellor of the UZ, Zimbabwe’s oldest university.
In the petition to Zacc, the UZ Sociology Department called for the immediate revocation, nullification and withdrawal of Grace’s doctorate by the university, a full investigation by the authorities into the abuse of office, corruption and other maladministration practices they say undermined the institution’s integrity and progress, adding “this seems only a tip of the iceberg”.
The fuming academics are demanding a formal investigation to determine whether Grace’s degree and other administrative practices do not violate Chapter 9, sections 194, 196-198 of the Constitution in relation to the governing of the UZ as a public institution.
The lecturers said the concerns of students, who are also appalled by the conferment of the doctorate, cannot be ignored.
Lecturers in the department said they were shocked when Grace emerged among the doctoral graduates.
“This was a shock to many members of the department as most members ‘never (saw) or heard about the proposal, progress reports, thesis examiners and outcome’ of such a study by the candidate. In fact, all of the departmental board members ‘heard about the graduation in the media and saw the pictures on the university calendar the following year,” the petition reads.
“In addition, at least the two chairpersons who were incumbents of office during the time when the candidate should have registered and worked on the PhD also ‘know nothing about it’. There is evidence that the Departmental Government Ordinances 1994 (Ordinance no.43), Faculty Ordinance (Ordinance no 44), approved policies and procedures for such a qualification, were violated.”
“The awarding of the degree has therefore not gone through processes that other candidates are subjected to which makes the awarding of the degree very suspicious.”
The petition listed 12 procedures that Grace should have complied with, before she could qualify to read for a doctorate at the UZ.
Firstly, the lecturers said, a prospective candidate approaches either the Post-Graduate Centre for guidance or a specific department based on the identified research interests and expresses an intention to work on a doctorate.
The prospective candidate then writes an initial proposal that outlines the problem statement, literature review, the research questions, the objectives, theoretical framework, research methodology and indicates proposed or preferred supervisors from the department, if any. An initial proposal is then submitted to the departmental board instituted by the cited ordinance. The candidate may, however, be referred to the department by the Post-Graduate Centre
“The departmental chairperson causes circulation of the initial proposal to members of the board and convenes a departmental board meeting to discuss the initial proposal and determine allocation of appropriate supervisors, including getting comments and professional input from the members,” reads the lecturers’ petition.
“The selected supervisor(s) takes over the candidate and starts to supervise the final proposal writing, advising on relevant literature, framing the problem statement to make sure it constitutes a defensible thesis and outlining the research methodology considering issues of feasibility of the research and ensuring the research will meet the required standard of science, and structuring the study with a theoretical framework, inter alia.”
Once the supervisor is satisfied that the proposal meets the standards of a doctoral proposal, the chairperson is notified and convenes a seminar where the candidate presents the proposal live before peers.
“It is at this stage that the departmental board can determine that the proposal proceeds with or without change or reject it outright as unfit and substandard and advise the supervisor and candidate how to proceed,” states the petition.
The supervisor and candidate will have another chance to perfect the proposal based on the first seminar’s comments and advice.
When the department board is satisfied, it approves the proposal and allows it to be submitted to the Faculty of High Degrees Committee (FHDC) whose responsibilities include verification that all departmental procedures were followed, among other issues.
The department will then await recommendations from the FHDC and its decision and if they decide to forward the proposal to the academic committee then the department awaits the verdict of this body and registration of the candidate.
Academic qualifications of the candidate, considering relevant experience and any other certificates acquired, are also checked by the department.
“Registration then notifies the candidate, the supervisor and the chairperson of the verdict of the committee, the commencement date of research, the registered supervisor, the minimum and maximum period of the study,” reads the petition.
“The candidate is then required to pay the required fees and study starts under the supervision of the departmental supervisor and progress reports are presented at the required intervals in departmental board meetings for monitoring purposes.”
When the thesis is ready for examination the departmental board ensures that qualified examiners are identified and recommended to the FHDC.
After successful defence, the final product of the thesis contributes to the body of science by putting it into the public domain for access by any researcher within reasonable time.
“However, contrary to section 2,3 of the cited ordinances, 43 members of the departmental board deny that there was any meeting on this issue and there are no minutes as record of such a meeting, known by members. These steps are the approved laid down policy and procedures of the university which guide the operation of the Faculty of Higher Degrees Committee.”