By Sij Ncube
HARARE, July 2, 2015 – Zanu (PF) activist and former cross-border trader, Killer Zivhu, has been conferred with an honorary degree, winning the bragging rights of be called a Doctor (Dr), in a development critics says appears to largely benefit the rich political elites.
The International Institute of Philanthropy (IPZ) conferred Zivhu, the Zanu (PF) chairperson for Chivi Rural District Council, with an honorary Doctorate of Human Letters at a colourful ceremony on Wednesday, ostensibly in recognition of his contribution to “various philanthropic works countrywide.”
IPZ chief facilitator, Enrico Sibanda, said the accolade was designed for citizens that have made significant change or who have preserved something societies tended to see as valuable through multiple generations.
Sibanda added that the Doctor of Humane Letters degree cannot be done via academic efforts and instead is gained though significant contributions to society, humanity and philanthropy.
“A honoris causa degree is given when the recipient has contributed significantly to society and in this way, the DHL degree is recognition of practical application of expertise in humanities or philanthropic areas,” said Sibanda.
Zivhu started off as a cross-border trader, vending various goods and wares before dabbling in politics and later philanthropic works.
But critics of these and other honorary degrees express reservations on the accolades pointing out they did little to academically inspired the country’s youth, more so when there appear to benefit the rich and mostly Zanu (PF) politically connected.
Be that as it may, being called a DR in Zimbabwe has assumed status symbol.
Other beneficiaries of the IPZ benevolence include Isabel Chihuri, the wife of police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri, Ruth Makandiwa, the wife of United Family International Church self-styled prophet Emmanuel Makandiwa, Pastor Ruth Kambarami of Christ Embassy and music super-star Oliver Mtukudzi, among others.
Various state universities have also awarded honorary doctorates to a number of prominent politicians and businesspeople linked to Zanu (PF), among them former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono and flamboyant businessman Phillip Chiyangwa, said to be President Robert Mugabe’s relative.
Rightly or wrongly some citizens strongly believe some of the honorary degrees are bought, a charge Sibanda vehemently disputes.
“As an honoris causa degree, the Doctor of Humane Letters distinction is not the same as an academic or earned degree where a student earns his title based on successful completion of required coursework. The practice of philanthropy can never be attained academically as philanthropists are born and live a life of practising philanthropy,” he said.
While Zivhu’s generosity and philanthropy is known well beyond Chivi, and should not be ashamed to flaunt his newly found status, critics, however, maintain there are more deserving cases than people linked to political parties such as the late Jairos Jiri who kept handicapped citizens in his own home in Bulawayo, and feeding them from his own pocket.
Rashweat Mukundu, a media consultant and graduate from the University of Zimbabwe and Rhodes University who chairs the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI), says the handing out of these accolades certainly does not inspire the country’s youths aspiring to attain the highest levels of education.
“The relevant Ministry must investigate such institutions as they generally have a tendency and potential to spoil the whole national education image through dubious awards. It is a national scandal of gaining without sweating. And it starts with the leadership and has spread to all sectors,” said Mukundu.
Masimba Nyamanhindi, who is doing a masters’ degree with the Royal Agricultural University in the United Kingdom said the parcelling out of the honorary degrees is a reflection of the culture of patronage and rent-seeking, “that those who are part of the patronage network can enhance their academic qualifications at an instant, without undergoing the necessary processes.”
“Whilst honorary degrees are not an anathema, it is the political elites well connected who seem to get these accolades,” said Nyamanhindi.
Rawlings Magede, an information officer with a non-governmental human rights organisation studying developmental studies with the Midlands State University, added his voice on the issue, saying lack of regulations governing the awarding of higher education qualifications is to blame.
“Some institutions that could have been registered dubiously are raking in thousands of dollars through awarding the so-called philanthropic doctoral degrees. It is worse when the bureaucrats responsible for regulating educational standards are the owners and beneficiaries of the same flawed educational system,” he charged.
Jacob Mafume, the spokesman for MDC Renewal Team, who studied law at the University of Zimbabwe, said it was interesting to note that people without “the education” are the ones that desire to be called Doctors.
“All you have to do is to become a loud clown or have money. We are handing out doctorates like confetti at a wedding,” said Mafume, adding that the ministry of Tertiary and Higher education should move with speed to stop the charade where unsuspecting members of the public are being awarded or made to acknowledge daylight fraud.
“These degrees are not worth the paper they are written on. And the more our education authorities keep quiet they are sleeping on duty,” he said.