Former first lady Grace Mugabe’s PhD saga has taken a new twist after the High Court reversed a ruling by a lower court giving investigators powers to search and seize all documents relating to the probe from the University of Zimbabwe (UZ).
In a judgment obtained yesterday, High Court judge Lavender Makoni ruled on February 16 that the warrant given to the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) was null and void.
This was after the country’s oldest university filed an urgent High Court application, challenging Harare magistrate Elisha Singano’s ruling on the basis that it was illegal.
The UZ cited, as respondents, Zacc, Singano and detective sergeant Richard Machinya.
Singano and Machinya were cited in their official capacities.
The Harare magistrate had directed UZ Registrar Noah Ariel Mutongoreni or any other senior official at the institution to provide a set of relevant documents, records and articles to Zacc to facilitate the investigation.
Some of the documents that the court needed to be made available include pre-registration application form, Grace’s research proposal submitted to the Department of Sociology, minutes of the departmental board assigning a supervisor to Grace, academic certificates of her supervisor, minutes showing that the doctorate degree passed through the academic committee, and minutes of the UZ senate recommending to the university council the conferment of the doctorate on Grace.
According to the directive, Zacc was also supposed to be furnished with the UZ Faculty Ordinance number 44, UZ quality assurance guidelines and benchmarks for management and supervision of higher degrees by research, General Academic Regulations for Post-Graduate Degrees of the UZ 1998/99 Volume 11, as well as copies of the transcript, notification and Doctor of Philosophy Degree awarded to Grace.
But High Court judge Makoni overturned Singano’s ruling last month.
“Whereupon, after reading documents filed of record and hearing counsel, it is ordered by consent that: the warrant of search and seizure issued by the third respondent (Singano) to the first and second respondents (UZ and Machinya) on the 12th of February 2018 be and is hereby declared null and void,” Makoni said.
The UZ had argued, when it approached the High Court, that the warrant violated the institution’s rights and was illegal.
“The warrant of search and seizure is invalid and should be set aside for the following reasons: it states, on the face as well as in the affidavit used to obtain it, that it is issued in terms of Section 54 (2) (b) as read with Section 50 (1) (a) of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act (Chapter 9:23) (hereinafter referred to as the ‘CP & E Act’).
“This section has nothing to do with a warrant of search and seizure, and it is wholly about entering premises for purposes of obtaining evidence, without a warrant. This fact alone invalidates the warrant as it is based on a premise which is wrong,” Mutongoreni said in an affidavit.
He further argued on behalf of the UZ that the section was only applicable to police officers, who the minister may designate.
“The second respondent (Machinya), as the deponent of the affidavit, does not state by what instrument the= minister designated police officers who can act in terms of this Section nor does he state that he is such a designated officer. On the basis that the second respondent purports to exercise powers which he has not shown that he is clothed with authority to exercise, the warrant is invalid,” Mutongoreni said.
He further said the affidavit upon which the warrant of search and seizure was issued was not properly deposed to, adding that the person who signed as commissioner of oaths had a stamp which was not that of a commissioner of oaths.
“Further the signing of an affidavit deposed to by a member of the Zimbabwe Republic Police by an alleged commissioner of oaths who is a member of the Zimbabwe Republic Police is a violation of Section 2 (1) of the Justices of the Peace and Commissioners of Oaths (General) Regulations, 1998 (S.I)183/1998). There is therefore no properly commissioned affidavit upon which the warrant could have been issued.
“The issuing of the warrant of search and seizure is a serious invasion of the rights of a person and as a result a warrant of search and seizure should not be issued except in circumstances that are fully compliant with the relevant legislation. In casu, the warrant issued to the first and second respondents was clearly not compliant. It should be set aside,” Mutongoreni said.
It has been alleged that Grace was corruptly awarded the doctorate degree by officials at the UZ.
Grace was granted the PhD in record-time four years ago only for the thesis to be published this year on the institution’s website.
Observers were 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 can 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”.
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.
Suspended UZ vice chancellor Levi Nyagura has since been arrested on allegations of improperly issuing Grace with the degree.