Degrees and doctorates of violence

Edinburgh University is thinking of stripping Robert Mugabe of an honorary degree awarded to the Zimbabwean dictator in 1984 at the height of Gukurahundu, reports TREVOR GRUNDY
'I hope that Mugabe will be the first person to be deprived of his award for becoming an anti-democratic tyrant'

Robert Mugabe was awarded an honorary degree by Edinburgh University’s Degrees Committee 23 years ago few Scottish academics and only a handful of British officials on the ground knew what was going on in Matabeleland.

In 1984 Robert Mugabe stood like a soldier on parade with a collection of smiling academics from one of Britain’s most prestigious universities, the place where another vital African leader Dr Julius Nyerere had studied and obtained a degree 30 years before.
The applause was loud and a broad smile of achievement spread across Robert Mugabe’s face.
“I hope that Robert Mugabe will be the first person to be deprived of his award for becoming an anti-democratic tyrant and no longer be able to flaunt his degree,” Green MSP Robin Harper, formerly Edinburgh’s Rector, told Scotland last week.
He told the paper’s political correspondent Murdo Macleod that a move to humiliate the Zimbabwean leader in public was excellent news. “I do think that honorary degrees are devalued when their recipients then go away and behave in a way that would never allow them to have an honorary degree in a million years.”
And the first man ever to win a seat in Scotland as a Green added: “The episode (awarding Mugabe an honorary degree) has been embarrassing for the university which gave the award in good faith and which, rightly, celebrates its connections with Africa.”
In a front page report published in SoS Murdo Macleod said that Edinburgh University was now cracking down on the abuse of honorary degrees amid growing concern over awards held by celebrities, serving politicians, “serial” degree collectors and unsavoury characters.
President Mugabe would seem to fit all four categories.
In 1998 he spoke publicly about his many degrees and then said – sending shivers up and those the backs of those opposed to his long and terrible rule – that the degree that pleased him most was his degree in violence. “I have many degrees in violence,” he said almost on the eve of the launching of a crazed land “reform” programme that has cut the head of agriculture, sent inflation over the 1,200 percent mark this year and destroyed the economy, most of Zimbabwe’s once thriving civic structure and send close on six million people into other countries looking for work.
Wrote Mr Macelod: “Edinburgh University is even planning to introduce unprecedented powers to strip honorary degree holders of their titles, with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe believed to be top of the target list.”
The SoS report said that papers released at the university under Freedom of Information legislation reveal that extensive discussions have taken place about how candidates are selected and vetted and about the type of people honoured.
Papers from Edinburgh Honorary Degrees Committee were marked “strictly confidential” but they show that the question of removing honorary degrees from individuals would be considered as soon as possible.
“If new powers are introduced Mugabe is almost certain to be stripped of his honorary degree which was awarded in 1984 amid euphoria over his country’s transition to Independence. Subsequent, widespread human rights abuse in the country led to protests at the University that Mugabe should lose his award.”
In 1984, Robert Mugabe was still being described as one of the great sons of modern Africa. Yet he received the degree of doctor honoris causa at the height of the massacre of tens of thousands of civilians in Matabeleland during the so-called Gukuruhundu after Mugabe let his North Korean trained Fifth Brigade of the ZNA off the leash.
In June 2005, over 1.5 million people in Zimbabwe had their homes and informal businesses destroyed by Mugabe’s army and police. So many people who supported Mugabe in the 1980s today regret their earlier positions.
Commented a feature published on the website of Christians for Truth almost one year ago (February 15, 2006): “Initially Robert Mugabe was held in very high regard by the West. He was knighted by the Queen of England, given official visits to the USA and Britain and many lifted him up as an ideal example of a wise and moderate African leader. Some even hailed Mugabe as a modern day Messiah.”

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