Grace Mugabe, wife of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Wife of Zimbabwe strongman Robert Mugabe has found herself in an academic storm that has not only undermined her standing in the public eye but has also shredded the reputation of the country’s highest institution of learning.
Last week Grace Mugabe was awarded a PhD in sociology by the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) when she is known to have enrolled for a doctoral programme only in July. Her thesis is supposedly on orphanages but a copy of it could not be found in the university library or online before graduation day as is required.
One expert said: “A PhD thesis, after being defended successfully in the (relevant) faculty, is stored in the library repository of the university and is publicly available in hardy copy or online. This is a prerequisite before graduation day.”
But Ms Mugabe’s thesis was not available online.
She took the plunge into Zimbabwe’s stormy politics just before the Zanu PF women’s league congress in August when she was nominated to lead the influential branch of Mr Mugabe’s party.
Outgoing leader of the group, Oppah Muchinguri ostensibly voluntarily relinquished her secretary for women’s affairs position and nominated Ms Mugabe to replace her. Mr Mugabe himself quickly anointed her ascension.
But events that followed Ms Mugabe’s entry show the move was part of a grand plan to manage the factious party’s succession wars; especially to thwart Vice-President Joice Mujuru’s succession.
Mr Mugabe has led Zanu PF since 1977 and Zimbabwe, as the ultimate authority, since independence in 1980. But in all this time he has never groomed a successor; now at 90, and rather poorly, his party has been torn into shreds by factional wars.
He is desperate to safeguard not only his legacy but also the safety of his young family. In this he has found a ready ally in his young and ambitious wife. She is only 49 and the last of their three children is still a teen. The feeling within the first family is that time is running out to achieve this.
Events of the past month have shown Grace is not only extremely go-getting but also hugely manipulative. She has been using her orphanage in Mazowe, a stone’s throw away from the capital Harare, as the launch pad for her political career, turning it into the command centre of her propaganda campaign.
Foreign dignitaries have to visit the institution where she parades the few orphans attending it. Parents of the rest of the pupils at the school say it is run like a business and is one of the most expensive private schools in the country. Those who fail to pay fees for their children are reported to the police.
In the past few weeks other branches of the ruling party such as the youth league and the highly politicised council of chiefs have been herded to the institution to pay homage and to endorse her nomination to the women’s league leadership.
But one thing was missing in the propaganda blitz to mould out of her the image of visionary leader ready to climb the ladders of power. Ms Mugabe has always been of dubious academic record having failed to achieve a degree in English from a British university in the 1990s. She now claims to hold a degree in Mandarin from a top Chinese university.
Now she has manipulated the UZ system to award her a PhD, destroying the already tattered reputation of the institution at the same time. In May last year UZ was ranked 91 out of 100 universities in Africa; in 1980 it was in the top 10. Now, analysts say, the only way for the institution is southwards.
Her rival Ms Mujuru also graduated with a PhD on the same day; raising the temperature.
Get more stuff like this
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.