The University of Oxford has come under mounting pressure to cut its ties with Zimbabwe’s finance minister, a former academic at the institution who retains a position as visiting professor.
As finance minister, Mthuli Ncube played a key role in the decision to dramatically increase fuel prices in Zimbabwe, a move that has sparked weeks of protests that have been violently suppressed by the country’s army. Members of the military have been accused of committing murder, rape and armed robbery.
Professor Ncube is a visiting professor in African studies at Oxford’s Saïd Business School and is a member of associate faculty at the Blavatnik School of Government, a position for former staff who retain a link to the centre. Between 2014 and 2016, he was professor of public policy at the Blavatnik.
Last month, Professor Ncube attended the World Economic Forum in Davos and denied that the fuel hike had sparked the protests, which he described as “pre-planned”. Professor Ncube said that there was “no room for violence on either side”, despite widespread reports of brutal repression by the forces of president Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Dan Hodgkinson, lecturer in African history and politics at Oxford, said that the “way in which the Zimbabwean government has acted in the last few weeks has been totally abhorrent”.
“Mthuli Ncube is a key part of it – he is the finance minister and he has collective accountability,” he continued.
Dr Hodgkinson said that Professor Ncube’s presence in Davos indicated a policy of re-engagement with the international community designed to ensure continuing foreign direct investment in Zimbabwe.
“An association with Oxford, an incredibly reputable institution, carries with it a lot of authority. To hold a position where you are able to use that authority seems to be problematic, to say the least,” Dr Hodgkinson said.
“For me, the authorities at Oxford should be thinking quite seriously about the implications that their association with the Zimbabwean government has for them.”
Simukai Chigudu, a Zimbabwean who is associate professor of African politics at Oxford, accused Professor Ncube of issuing “naked lies in defence of unconscionable violence and repression from the Zimbabwean state”. Writing on Twitter, he said that it was “deeply disturbing” that Professor Ncube retained a visiting professorship at Oxford and called on the university to “denounce” the former staff member.
A third Oxford academic, who asked not to be named, said that the university was “compromised” by its association with someone “who is part of a regime involved in violence, rapes and murders against its people”.
“What does it say to Zimbabweans at the university if it does not condemn his role in this or try to dissociate itself from him?” the academic said.
Professor Ncube previously held senior roles at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa and was a lecturer in finance at the London School of Economics.
An Oxford spokeswoman said that Professor Ncube had been appointed to his positions at the university “based on his distinguished career as an economist, both in academia and as chief economist of the African Development Bank”.
“[Professor Ncube’s] position as minister of finance [of] Zimbabwe now limits his ability to contribute to teaching…but we continue to value the opportunity to benefit from his experience as a distinguished academic,” she said.
“We however denounce the recent violence in Zimbabwe and will continue to monitor the political situation in the country,” the spokeswoman added.