An outbreak of PhDs?


The late Enoch Dumbutshena, Zimbabwe’s first black Chief Justice, gave Zimbabweans hilarious, but serious moments to reflect, when he observed candidly – not self-hatingly — that there was a tendency among us blacks to suffer from what he called the PHD syndrome.

Echoes – Conway Tutani

His reference was not to Doctor of Philosophy as PhD [from the Latin philosophiæ doctor (teacher of philosophy)], but to the “Pull-Him-Down” syndrome.

At times, you need to discard political correctness – like mincing words as to refer to “wrong” as “differently logical”; or “dishonest” as “ethically challenged” — and say the bare facts and bold truth that some people only find happiness in the misery of others.

They, as it were, envy you for not envying them. They don’t want to see others succeed. They slander, mock, lie, demonise – in fact, do anything to bring you down.

You need to see how people – in particular, incompetent, insecure people in top positions — set up others in the workplace to ensure they themselves gain favour and the competent fall into disfavour with the big boss.

From the government, to business organisations, down to the individual level, there are many such disreputable, uneviable PHDs.

They will almost single-handedly ruin the chances of their much more able and capable counterparts to the great detriment of the organisation, especially where there are no structures and where the blue-eyed boy syndrome reigns.

Again, for the avoidance of doubt, the PhD being referred to here is Doctor of Philosophy in the academic sense, not PHD in reference to point-and-shoot cameras or compact cameras. They are called PHDs (short for “Push Here Dummy”) for good reason: You cannot learn much about photography using such cameras because these types of cameras do everything for you.

We are talking about real individual academic achievement of breaking new ground, the pinnacle of academic excellence, not being led all the way; not only about being an academic, but also an academician.

Thus, PhD can never be a crash course. You can’t hand out PhDs like confetti. They are the heirlooms of a university.

It’s not to say that there has been an outbreak of PhDs in Zimbabwe like — without making light of it — Ebola in West Africa, but there has certainly been an upsurge of people titled “Dr So-and-So”. It is good if this is due to genuine hunger for genuine education.

On the other hand, the lengths people can go to be simply called “Somebody” is quite shocking, to say the very least. They just don’t care if it’s based on false qualifications because to them what’s important is solely the title, not the merit, not the justification.

For example, I personally know of a man (name withheld) who forged an “O” Level certificate in order to enter a theological college to train as a religious minister despite the Christian injunction: “Thou shalt not lie.” Of course, he struggled through the course and has become a complete embarrassment to his church (name withheld).

But is it a coincidence that most of these new PhDs in Zimbabwe are prominent politicians and top officials with strong political links? Questioning the authenticity of some of these PhDs is not pulling them down per se.

Last year, a German university moved to revoke the doctorate of Education minister Annette Schavan, a close confidante of Chancellor (Executive Prime Minister) Angela Merkel, after ruling that she stole another author’s scholarly work (including language, thoughts, ideas and expressions) and presented it as her own original work in parts of her dissertation some 30 years ago.

In 2011, German Defence minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg left politics in disgrace after it was discovered that he plagiarised parts of his doctoral thesis. In the Eastern Cape, South Africa, the “Dr Pallo Jordan Primary School” needs to be renamed urgently after it was discovered last month that former Cabinet minister Pallo Jordan, after whom it was named, was using a fake doctorate title all along.

We now have Dr Gideon Gono, Dr Phillip Chiyangwa, Dr Obert Mpofu, Dr John Mangudya et al and – from as recent as last week – Dr Joice Mujuru and Dr Grace Mugabe from various universities, some of them not exactly Ivy League.
If these doctorates have been truly earned, then congrats to them.

If not, then that’s, er, something else. Remember when, in 2011, Dr Munyaradzi Kaseke rather self-incriminatingly claimed to have written former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) governor Gono’s PhD thesis?

Gono, according to Kereke, “could never have secured a quarter of the PhD requirements . . . in five decades”. Hmmm . . .
“Mr Gideon Gono, do you forget you yet again abused your authority by forcing me to literally do all the academic work on your behalf for the entire PhD studies upon which you were ‘conferred’ the doctoral degree you now flaunt to the public as you own?

“Do not forget you forced me to do all for you, right from registration, to doing all the assignments, to doing all the online exams right up to the final thesis, so I could keep my job at the RBZ.” Aaaaah?

It should be conceded, however, that some of Kereke’s accusations should be taken with a pinch of salt because they were only publicly made after the two had fallen out, not during happier times.

There is nothing wrong, but everything right, with celebrating such singular success as attaining a PhD, but without showing too much pride in your abilities or achievements, which could turn out — after all — to be non-existent.

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