HARARE – Former first lady Grace Mugabe’s record-time PhD granted by the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) four years ago only for the thesis to be published this week on the institution’s website, has courted further controversy.
Analysts are not amused by the lengthy period it has taken the country’s oldest university to release the thesis for all to see, saying it only adds more fuel to the controversy around how Grace was awarded the doctorate.
The thesis has also been run against a plagiarism checker, with the results showing that nearly half of words and phrases in the thesis scan be found in other sources.
Plagiarism checker or detection is the process of locating instances of plagiarism within a work or document.
Most cases of plagiarism are found in academia, where documents are typically essays or reports.
The widespread use of computers and the advent of the Internet have made it easier to plagiarise the work of others.
Grace was awarded the PhD in 2014 after about three months of study.
Doctorates typically require several years of full-time research and writing.
The 226-paged thesis entitled “The changing social structures and functions of the family: the case of children’s homes in Zimbabwe”, was supervised by UZ lecturer Claude Mararike.
Interestingly, the thesis was published under Grace’s maiden name — Ntombizodwa G. Marufu.
It was dedicated to her husband, former president Robert Mugabe, “because of his dedication and commitment to the well-being of the people of Zimbabwe”.
Kent University law lecturer Alex Magaisa said the awarding of the doctorate and time spent before making it public proved that the doctorate was a shame.
“On the Grace … PhD shame, I’m terribly disappointed by the administration running my beloved old university, the UZ. They found themselves in a hole when they awarded her a dodgy degree in 2014. Instead of coming out of it, they continue to dig the hole. I don’t know what they were trying to achieve by releasing the farcical piece of work that they are calling a PhD thesis.
“The vice chancellor (VC) and all those involved in this farce should take responsibility or their superiors should bring them to book. Those of us who graduated from the UZ are very proud of our roots but this scandalous episode causes us deep embarrassment. We aspired to go there; it was highly competitive and it was a place of academic excellence. But this scandal has caused untold damage to its standing,” Magaisa tweeted.
Pedzisai Ruhanya, the director of the Harare-based Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, bemoaned what he called attempts by the UZ to authenticate Grace’s “fake degree”.
“The bastardisation of academy continues at UZ. So much about ED (President Emmerson Mnangagwa)’s fight against corruption,” he posted on his Twitter account.
“Instead of revoking Grace’s bogus degree, the UZ is attempting to authenticate a fake degree; to achieve what and why? This country hey! This is sad. Even great minds like Isaac Newton did not produce great ideas in three months. UZ is rotten and consequently ED government if this rot is not addressed now”.
UZ-trained lawyer, Jacob Mafume, said a parliamentary committee must summon VC Levi Nyagura to explain how this happened.
He said the National Assembly must put a stop to the abuse of State universities, saying the country’s education system was anchored around UZ, which cannot be allowed to lose credibility “because of a power hungry woman who thought she could become a small house to education”.
Ashley Munetsi, the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe National Students’ Union (Zinasu), said they would continue to demand answers from Nyagura as there was “an obvious cover-up.”
Makomborero Haruzivishe, former Zinasu secretary, described the development as tragic while activist Leonard Koni found it “embarrassing that such a big academic institution would award a PHD to Grace … in three months.”
One Tembedza Chigovanyika was equally not amused by the development.
Chigovanyika wrote: “A fake thesis by UZ like the PhD itself. Thus, corruption at the then institution of higher learning in the country is more than endemic. If everyone’s PhD was like Grace’s, then everybody who has influence or money would have had that degree in three months’ time.”
Controversy over Grace’s PhD is threatening to smear the UZ’s accomplishments in the field of higher learning.
This comes as lecturers at the UZ’s sociology department are now living in fear of reprisals after questioning the awarding of the doctorate to the former first lady.
On Wednesday, Nyagura is said to have summoned academic staff in the department following a series of letters outlining their grievances.
In a hard-hitting letter, the department hit out at Nyagura,, who could not be reached for comment at the time of going to print as his phone was not reachable, saying their opposition to Grace being granted the PhD has led to their persecution.
“The VC summoned us as sociology department on January 24, 2018 following a series of letters from the department outlining our grievances (as a) department. The meeting had no written agenda. Surprisingly, the VC started by chasing a member of the board out of the meeting and three more members of the department momentarily stormed out of the meeting in protest. The members then came back to attend the meeting,” reads part of the letter.
“The VC then declined to listen to the grievances of the board and went on a tirade, threatening members with instant dismissal, suspension of degree programme and closure of the department. We take these threats seriously because the VC boasted that he has done it before, with no consequences. The official response from the VC was that the department has no say in the administration of MPhil and DPhil candidates. This is not true. The policies, procedures and ordinances are clear”.
The department further said under Nyagura’s watch, the sociology department “is now a factory for manufacturing sub-standard qualifications.”
“The people who supervised Grace …PhD are in the process of producing another bogus degree for the VCs secretary, who has no BSc or MSc in Sociology and Anthropology; hence she is not qualified to be in the sociology department. As we write, there are also PhDs under manufacturing by the same supervisor yet he has no known qualifications in the field in which the students purport to be researching, for example Chinese culture,” the letter further reads.
Staff in the department also claim that Mararike was “unprocedurally registering and supervising PhDs” and was being shielded from scrutiny by Nyagura.
The department has previously called for the immediate revocation and withdrawal of Grace’s doctorate, and that full investigations be instituted by the authorities to probe alleged abuse of office and corruption.
Questions around Grace’ PhD were rekindled in November last year at the height of the military’s intervention that eventually led to the resignation of Mugabe after 37 years of misrule.
At the time, thousands of UZ students took full advantage of the immobilisation of the police to lay siege Nyagura’s offices, demanding his resignation and the revocation of Grace’s controversial doctorate.
The students, who had been scheduled to begin their first and second semester examinations, declined to sit for their examinations protesting to see the back of Nyagura for a host of misdemeanours, including granting Grace a doctorate inside three months.
The situation was only resolved after then Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantino Chiwenga and now vice president ordered protesting students to return to their examinations calling for calm saying any action might have compromised the country’s peace.