The Parliament of Zimbabwe has refused a request by students to probe how President Robert Mugabe’s wife, Grace, controversially attained a doctorate from the University of Zimbabwe.
The PhD was granted to the First Lady, a 49-year-old former typist in the president’s office, amid disturbing details there were no records of her admission at UZ to justify the degree.
She was capped by Mugabe, along with Vice President Joice Mujuru, soon after she was endorsed to lead the ruling Zanu PF party’s women’s wing.
Zimbabwe National Students Union (Zinasu) petitioned Parliament a fortnight ago, seeking to compel lawmakers to probe the “dubious circumstances” under which Grace obtained her PhD.
But Jacob Mudenda, Speaker of the National Assembly, and Austin Zvoma, the clerk of Parliament, Wednesday unequivocally dismissed prospects of the matter being probed by parliamentarians.
“I regret to inform you that Parliament has no legal authority or justification to accept or rule over this matter and thus, I kindly advice you to seek relief through the senate of University of Zimbabwe (UZ), the relevant ministry or courts,” Mudenda said.
The UZ Senate is the academic authority of the UZ and consists of the vice-chancellor, pro vice-chancellors, deans of faculties, professors, chairpersons of departments and elected representatives of teaching staff and students.
Zinasu has since written to the UZ vice chancellor Levi Nyagura seeking clarification and recourse on the First Lady’s PhD.
“We are kindly requesting information on whether the process that was used to the formulation of this doctorate are or not procedural or if there are any regulations or Acts that allow such disbursements of academic doctorates,” Zinasu president Gilbert Mutubuki wrote to Nyagura.
There has been no response to Zinasu from Nyaguraso far.
Mudenda said: “It must therefore be understood that disputes regarding conferment of degrees can be appropriately dealt with by the ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, the senate of University of Zimbabwe or the courts.”
The speaker said he was referring the students’ body to the Higher Education ministry saying it is the one with the constitutional mandate to deal with the awarding of academic degrees.
“The executive, under the minister of Higher and Tertiary Education is responsible for universities, polytechnics and college of Zimbabwe,” Mudenda said.
“For this reason, Parliament is barred from interfering with the independence of the executive arm of the State unless the organ grossly violates the provisions of the constitution.”
While acknowledging that citizens have the right to petition Parliament, Mudenda said the legislature can only deal with matters within its authority.
“Although Section 149 of the constitution provides for the right of citizens and permanent residents to petition Parliament, it specifically limits this right to matters within Parliament’s authority,” he said.
“In other words, Parliament can only be petitioned by the public to act only on matters within its authority. The legislative authority and role of Parliament is set out in sections 117 (2) and 119 of the constitution of Zimbabwe respectively.”
While Zanu PF chief whip Joram Gumbo was unreachable for comment, his MDC counterpart Innocent Gonese said Grace’s PhD saga can only be addressed through the movement of motions during parliamentary debate.
“As you aware, Parliament adjourned its business, but I think the matter can only be dealt with by motions,” Gonese said. “MPs will have to move a motion for this matter to be discussed.”
Mutubuki Wednesday told the Daily News that he has since written to the University Council and Senate seeking clarification on Grace’s PhD.
“We have written to all the authorities at UZ seeking clarity on how the first lady got that doctorate,” Mutubuki told the Daily News.
“This is a serious issue that can tarnish the image of the university.”