President suspends vice-chancellor over Grace Mugabe PhD

Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa has suspended University of Zimbabwe Vice-chancellor Professor Levi Nyagura for allegedly awarding former first lady Grace Mugabe a doctor of philosophy degree ‘corruptly’ in 2014.

Nyagura was arrested in February and granted bail the following day and on Wednesday 15 August his trial failed to kick off as scheduled as his lawyers said they needed more time to prepare his defence.

The vice-chancellor is accused of awarding Grace Mugabe a PhD without the approval of the University of Zimbabwe senate and council, as stipulated by regulations.

Since 2014 there have been claims that Mugabe’s doctorate was fake, but no action was taken while her husband Robert Mugabe was in power, up until November last year when he was forced to resign as Zimbabwean president.

Mugabe was replaced by his former deputy, Mnangagwa.

“Please be advised that His Excellency the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe and Chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe, being the appointing authority in terms of section 8 of the University of Zimbabwe Act, Chapter 25:16, hereby suspends Professor Levi M Nyagura as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe pending the finalisation of his alleged charges of criminal abuse of office. The suspension is in terms of Section 340 (1) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe … and is with immediate effect with full benefits,” reads a letter written by Mnangagwa’s secretary Dr Misheck Sibanda to Minister of Higher Education Dr Amon Murwira.

Reports in Zimbabwe say Nyagura was initially suspended by the University of Zimbabwe council in February this year before he was arrested on allegations of abuse of authority over his conduct, but he continued to report for duty apparently at the behest of the higher education minister.

Earlier this year, the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) applied to a Harare magistrate’s court and was granted permission to search and seize all documents relevant to its investigation.

The magistrate said that ZACC should have access to Grace Mugabe’s pre-registration application form, her research proposal submitted to the sociology department, minutes of the departmental board meeting assigning a supervisor to Mugabe, the academic certificates of her supervisor, minutes showing that the doctoral degree passed through the academic committee, and minutes of the University of Zimbabwe senate meeting recommending to the university council the conferment of the doctorate to Mugabe.

Minutes of the university council meeting recommending to the chancellor the conferment of the doctorate, copies of progress reports at the postgraduate centre, copies of a contract of a research assistant and contract of a teaching assistant could also be seized by investigators, the court said.

The former first lady graduated with a doctor of philosophy degree in the faculty of social studies in September 2014.

Nyagura allegedly led supervisors and examiners to Mugabe’s Mazowe orphanage, where the defence oral examination was purportedly done without the knowledge and approval of the academic committee. The examination is supposed to be done at the University of Zimbabwe premises.

Prosecutors also say he usurped the powers of the university senate by single-handedly appointing examiners for Mugabe’s research in violation of the University of Zimbabwe Act and Ordinance 1998/99.

In January, 10 lecturers from the university’s department of sociology wrote a letter to Nyagura challenging him to revoke and nullify Mugabe’s doctorate, arguing that its award was unprocedural and constituted academic corruption.

They also said the thesis was not in the university library as of 8 January 2018.

Nyagura attacked lecturers in the department of sociology for challenging the awarding of the doctorate saying they were “ignorant Messrs and doctors” with no academic capacity to supervise a PhD student.

In an interview with the state-run Herald newspaper, Nyagura said PhD students were supervised by the postgraduate centre and not a teaching department. He said the ex-first lady’s thesis was deposited at the university library in 2014.