FORMER Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Deputy Minister Dr Godfrey Gandawa raised a red flag over the awarding of a Doctor of Philosophy degree (PhD) to former First Lady Grace Mugabe two months after she was awarded, but was threatened into silence, it has emerged.
Mrs Mugabe was awarded the PhD in 2014 by the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) and her husband Mr Mugabe — in his capacity as the university chancellor — presided over her graduation ceremony.
Documents in The Herald’s possession show that Dr Gandawa wrote to then Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Minister Dr Olivia Muchena seeking clarity over the awarding of the degree.
In the letter dated September 29, 2014, Dr Gandawa notes that obtaining a PhD follows is an established process with a clear paper trail.
“It must therefore be noted that an audit trail is created by and during the process I have outlined herein. In that case, if the First Lady was properly assisted to observe the above procedure, therefore, the audit trail of evidence and documentation relevant to her research work should be available, more so for public consumption with a view to quelling down unfounded scathing attacks on her integrity, that of the chancellor as well as that of the UZ itself.
“Clearly something went awry as regards the process followed by the University of Zimbabwe as evidenced by the drowning noise being raised all over and the apparent failure by the UZ to provide the First Family with protection at a time it’s needed most,” reads Dr Gandawa’s letter to Dr Muchena.
“Hon Minister, pretending that all went well with the last UZ graduation ceremony is not only being naive on our part as ministers of this ministry, but it is also a dangerous and futile wishful thinking exercise, seeking to provide us with a false and misleading lull to our otherwise usually sharp academic conscience.”
Dr Gandawa said key questions were being raised in the public domain and within circles of academia in connection with Mrs Mugabe’s PhD.
He said the questions included whether the UZ followed due process leading to the awarding of the degree to Mrs Mugabe.
“Did Amai Mugabe go through all the stages of the process resulting in her attaining the PhD degree? Did she take the required study time or not? Who were her internal and external supervisors? Who were her advisors as she prepared to register and during the whole process of registering for her PhD studies? If there was a flaw in the process, was it just a mere failure of procedure and system or was it a well calculated outcome aimed at dealing a fatal blow to the very image and person of the First Lady and that of her husband, His Excellency and the UZ Chancellor?” further asked Dr Gandawa.
He suspects that Mrs Mugabe could have been a beneficiary of Zanu-PF factionalism at the time with some politicians in the party pretending to do her a favour by manipulating the system of awarding the degree.
“To what an extent could this be linked to political manoeuvring with factionalism and power struggles at play? Can a political hand be seen behind the scenes manipulating procedure with a hidden agenda to smear the image of the First Family? Could some people behind the scenes have pretended to assist her elevate her profile with the aim of eventually tarnishing the First Lady’s image and integrity for political reasons? How can such a conspiracy theory be ruled out since the process involved no novices in the area of conferment of higher degrees at the mother of all universities in the country – people of high repute and supposedly of high academic integrity and statuses?”
Dr Gandawa said the process of awarding degrees to high political figures was supposed to be handled with high sensitivity and by a team of highly experienced and mature university officials and in consultation with the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development.
“Was any such team set up and were any such consultations carried out?” Dr Gandawa asked.
“Surely, this could not have escaped the analysis of any simple academic and intellectual mind, let alone the collective brain power of top academics, including the self-proclaimed highly educated, top engineer and wise chairman of the UZ council, who also doubles as the Secretary for the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, Dr Washington Mbizvo.”
Dr Gandawa demanded to know the involvement of the ministry in the whole saga.
“All things being equal, the ministry should have, by now, submitted a detailed report to the UZ Chancellor and Head of State, on what really transpired rather than to leave everything to speculation, whilst the battering and bashing continues in the media unabated. By now the ministry should have furnished the First Lady with full information from its own viewpoint regarding what transpired and how she could be protected, if nothing amiss happened.
“Under normal circumstances, as soon as our ministry plunged into this crisis, we should have consulted each other, putting our heads together, sharing collective wisdom with a view to finding a lasting solution and minimise damage on the First Family, the university and the ministry. However, I am baffled by the apparent maintenance of silence and aloofness, even on the part of the very engineers and protagonists of the crisis,” said Dr Gandawa. He threw the story back at Dr Muchena. “I don’t know on your part, Hon Minister, but on my part, I intend to set the record straight that I was left out of the picture from the beginning to the end of the whole process. However, I am aware that the secretary (Dr Mbizvo) and the Vice Chancellor (Professor Levi Nyagura) were active players in this process, which makes them qualified to furnish us with answers to all the questions raised in respect of this matter,” said Dr Gandawa.
He insinuated that the awarding of the degree to Mrs Mugabe could have been a plot to destroy her.
“In the absence of convincing answers, I am left with no option but to suspect that it was, indeed, a deliberate and carefully calculated strategy to destroy Amai Mugabe and the First Family in a bigger political game than meets the ordinary eye. How else can it be explained when all of a sudden, everyone who had their hands on the deck, suddenly disappear into deafening silence at a time when they should be speaking out loudly in defence of the First Family, if everything was done above board,” wrote Dr Gandawa.
He demanded to know the role Dr Muchena played.
“If due process was followed and nothing was and is amiss about awarding of this much talked about PhD degree, then the onus is upon those who were directly and actively superintending over the process to come out and proffer solid evidence that vindicates the First Lady, the ministry, and the UZ, rather than to remain silent on the matter as if nothing has happened.
“If such evidence is available, then attempts should be made to contain the rumour mill which is in overdrive with the media attacking the First Family whilst the protagonists in the university and ministry maintain their peace. Why can’t someone explain to the ministry and the nation what happened in order to douse the flames fuelled by speculation as a way of controlling and minimising the damage already inflicted on the person of the Chancellor (then Mr Mugabe), the First Lady, the minister and indeed the reputation of the UZ?”
Dr Gandawa said it was surprising that after Mrs Mugabe’s PhD saga became public, “both the secretary Dr Mbizvo and the UZ Vice Chancellor Prof L. Nyagura, have neither submitted any report to us as ministers, nor have they made any public statements in order to do damage control. They have also not briefed me on the matter as a stakeholder.”
He urged Dr Muchena to urgently institute “an urgent high-profile investigation into the matter with a view to getting the correct facts and eventually providing answers to many questions being raised about this matter . . .”
Dr Gandawa suggested that the ministry should have compiled a report to Mr Mugabe, Mrs Mugabe and the Office of the President and Cabinet over what transpired.
When The Herald sought Dr Gandawa’s comment over the matter yesterday, he confirmed authoring the letter to Dr Muchena and that he got no response but threats from certain offices to leave the matter.
He did not reveal who threatened him and why.
“She (Dr Muchena) did not respond. I also did not withdraw the letter. I wrote it and gave it to her and other senior officials. Ndakavhundutsirwa. They said ndakudakuonesa, siyana nayo. Even the next minister (Professor Jonathan Moyo) never looked at it yet I was fighting to address the issue,” he said.
Efforts to get a comment from Dr Muchena were fruitless yesterday.
Prof Nyagura and Dr Mbizvo were also not available to comment on the matter.
Dr Muchena was dropped from Cabinet by then president Mugabe in December 2014.