US college may cancel Mugabe degree

namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />JOHANNESBURG – The University of Massachusetts is to consider revoking an honorary degree awarded to Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe in 1986, says university president, Dr Jack Wilson, who was here to confer a similar honorary doctorate on former South African president, Nelson Mandela.

Dr Wilson said that he would initiate the inquiry personally on his return to the campus.

“It was done well before my time,” he said, “but I think Mr Mugabe’s degree is something we certainly need to look at.”

Dr Wilson paid tribute to President Mandela’s “lifelong commitment to freedom,” saying he had come to South Africa to honour one of his personal heroes.

“Nelson Mandela is a hero to all people who value freedom, dignity and justice,” he said before handing over the scroll. “President Mandela’s principled opposition to tyranny and injustice inspires us today and will inspire our sons and daughters for generations to come.”

By contrast, in neighbouring Zimbabwe, human rights groups have accused Mugabe of widespread torture and abuse.

UMass would not be the first institution to consider such action. Last year, the academic assembly of Michigan State University passed a resolution calling for the removal of an honorary doctorate of laws conferred on Mugabe in 1990. The Michigan resolution argued that Mugabe having an MSU degree was “morally and ethically unacceptable.”

In November, the students’ union at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland passed a similar motion calling for Mugabe to be stripped of an honorary doctorate awarded in 1984, saying that his continued use of the title gave “legitimacy to a dictator”.

The UMass degree was awarded in January 1986, four years after the Zimbabwe government had nationalised the press and at the height of a local genocide in the southern province of Matabeleland where troops loyal to Mugabe are alleged to have massacred up to 40 000 of his political opponents. The scroll was handed to the Zimbabwean leader by President Mandela’s daughter, Makiziwe Mandela, who was studying at UMass at the time.

UMass chairman, Dr James Karam, who was travelling with Dr Wilson, refused to be drawn on whether the school should revoke Mugabe’s honour.

“I wasn’t there in 1986, it was well before my time and I’m not prepared to comment on the matter,” he said. – Own correspondent

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