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Africa University officials stress school’s independence

 


Africa University officials stress school’s independence

Sept. 17, 2004

By Linda Green*

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) - Africa University does not fatten the wallets of Zimbabwe’s leaders in order to operate independently, said the school’s fund-raising committee.

Members of the Africa University Development Committee emphasized that point in response to a letter to the editor that appeared in the Sept. 1 issue of the UMConnection, the newspaper of Baltimore-Washington Annual (regional) Conference. The letter sparked an e-mail discussion across the United States about the university and dominated conversation at the committee’s fall meeting.

The letter, written by retired U.S. Navy Capt. Larry Lutz, asks if the United Methodist-related university used donations from church members to pay off Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his staff in exchange for operating without government interference.

Lutz asks how Africa University, a Christian school, has been able to survive in a country "run by thugs and criminals" when other entities across Zimbabwe face intimidation.

The Rev. Jerome King Del Pino, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, and James Salley, the university’s associate vice president of institutional advancement, both said the school is one of the most audited entities in the United Methodist Church, and there is no way it could pay off anyone.

"Africa University is one of the most controlled institutions, financially, in the denomination," Del Pino said. "The auditing process of the university is far more rigorous than any local church in the denomination in the United States."

"It would be impossible for the university to pay off somebody and people not know it. Every dime that you give can be accounted for," Salley said.

Providing a Zimbabwean perspective was Grace Muradzikwa, a member of the Africa University Board of Directors and the chief executive officer of the one of the largest property and casualty insurance companies in her country.

Although the country is plagued with hyperinflation, she attributed Africa University’s success to "its staying away from politics and focusing on its mission."

The "university is safe, and the students remain safe," Muradzikwa said. One reason is the distance between the Mutare-based school and the capital city, Harare. "The locale of Africa University is ideal," she said. "It is remote and removed from the bustle of Harare."

In his letter, Lutz refers to a teachers’ union representative being arrested at the school after addressing students without police clearance-a statement that university officials and other committee members deny. No grounds exist for that claim, they said.

"I was on campus every day, and there is no way that I would not have heard about an arrest," said Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa, a fixture at the university before his Aug. 20 election as the new United Methodist bishop of Zimbabwe.

The development committee and Africa University will formally respond to Lutz and send the UMConnection a letter to the editor.

During a Sept. 10 banquet celebrating the contributions people have made to the "school of dreams," Nhiwatiwa spoke about the university’s impact on the continent and described the 12-year-old institution as a living legacy.

Africa University will remain "the greatest undertaking of all times (that) the United Methodist Church has implemented on the African continent," he said. Increased awareness is needed, he said, so that the entire church knows of the great thing it has developed.

The bishop echoed a report by Salley who determined that while the university remains "one of the most energizing ministries" of the denomination, he said it also is "still one of the best-kept secrets in local churches of the connection." He told the development committee that one of its goals is to assist in making the university known to at least one million United Methodists during the quadrennium.

Nhiwatiwa said that Africa University is a "unifying factor" on the continent through its graduates and has enhanced the global nature of the church.

"Our connectional system is lived at Africa University," he said. "The university has, through the years, made the church leaders in the central (regional) conferences more visible for African church members in a way not experienced before."

The university has provided a forum for people to meet, dismantled language barriers and developed a new breed of African leaders who take ethics and Christian values seriously in their professional lives.

In other action, committee members:

  • Learned that the university, through its Institute of Peace, Leadership and Governance, is a potential major player in the campaign by the African Union to improve the continent’s leadership and assist in developing a proposed Africa Governance Institute.
  • Learned that building at the university continues and that the second phase of the Jokomo-Yamada Library, a communications center, has been completed. The U.S. Agency for International Development has provided funds to furnish the library’s new communications center.
  • Learned that Grace Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s first lady, donated 25 computers to the university in August, saying she was investing in the community from which she came.
  • Applauded the university’s first female dean, Thoko Chitepo, in the faculty of humanities and social sciences.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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