Bishop’s Trip to Africa University

By Dr. David Braddon

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”—Nelson Mandela

On Jan. 11, 39 people embarked on a remarkable trip led by South Carolina Resident Bishop Jonathan Holston and his wife, Felecia.

We gathered in Atlanta and flew to Johannesburg, South Africa, crossing the equator, seven time zones and 8,000 miles (15-plus hours in the air). We then flew about 600 miles generally north to land in Zimbabwe’s capital city, Harare, in the northeast corner of the country.

Zimbabwe is slightly larger than Georgia and the two Carolinas combined. Population is about 14 million, and the literacy is high at 84 percent. English is a common language, and the United States dollar is the main currency. Harare is a modern city with a population of about 1.5 million. Rural areas are less affluent, and the country is still restructuring from British rule, which ended in 1980.

Africa University

Our primary mission was to visit Africa University near Mutare (the fourth largest city in Zimbabwe and about 165 miles south of Harare, population circa 400,000). Africa University was founded in 1992 by The United Methodist Church and is one of the most significant and successful missional endeavors of the UMC over the past 20 years. It is the only private university in Zimbabwe.

Students and graduates have come from 29 different countries in Africa. There is a deliberate mixing of students from different regions in the classroom and in dormitories. Pan-African thinking is emphasized over a focus on local contexts. Graduates can and do work in a variety of settings and geographies. Leadership training is embedded in all of the programs of study.

The campus is located on 1,600 acres about 15 miles from the city of Mutare and is an attractive campus by any standard. Curriculum and degrees are focused on specific Pan-African needs. Currently, there are more than 20 undergraduate degrees offered and a similar number of master’s-level postgraduate degrees.

The university has the following seven colleges or faculties: Agriculture and Natural Resources (a working farm is part of the university), education, health science, humanities and social sciences, management and administration, theology (initial funding led by the former South Carolina Bishop Lawrence McCleskey) and the Institute of Peace, Leadership and Governance (postgraduate degrees only). Current fulltime enrollment is just fewer than 1,450 students with part-time students totaling about 780.

Making a difference

Africa University’s graduates are making a difference in Africa. For example, Dr. Tolbert Jallah (Liberia) is the Secretary General of the Christian Council of Churches in West Africa, Togo. He and essentially all of his leadership staff are AU graduates. The National Child Health Care coordinator is a graduate and a United Methodist. The manager of Operation Classroom that assists Liberian refugees and is also an advisor to the president is an AU grad.

In Uganda, graduates are training peacekeepers in Sudan, an area of conflict. Several years ago, schoolgirls were kidnapped and abused in Uganda. One of those girls, who was age 14 at the time and abused for four months prior to escaping, is now an AU graduate. She has returned to Uganda as a social worker assisting refugees and abused women integrate back into society. She is also a strong advocate for women’s rights.

A United States mining company hired 3 AU graduates several years ago to work in water reclamation from mining operations. The company was so pleased with the skills and leadership of these environmental engineers that they now employ 22 AU graduates. A missionary graduate from Senegal is the founding dean of an agricultural school in the Congo. He is working to develop new seed varieties suitable to local conditions.

The new head of Africa University, Professor Manashe Furusa, is creating a fresh vision for the school. He sees four major things:

  • Continued focus on leadership and teaching practical skill sets directed to Africa’s context
  • Increased research including joint work with other institutions, technology transfer, possible business incubation (start-up assistance) and consulting services.
  • Community outreach/involvement
  • Growth of an additional 1,000 full time students

Strengthened relationships

Dr. Gloria McCutcheon, formerly on the Clemson faculty and now a professor of biology and public health at Claflin University, joined us to revisit established relationships at Africa University and to build new collaborations at the intersection of public health and agriculture. Her former student at Clemson, Dr. Walter Manyangarirwa, is serving on the faculty at Africa University, and his doctorate degree in entomology is a result of collaboration between Clemson and AU, exploring safe, natural alternatives to chemical insecticides in food production.

McCutcheon is an entomologist, and she worked with the health sciences faculty to establish research priorities, including malaria and HIV, so faculty and student exchanges will be most beneficial for representatives of both institutions. Both President Henry Tisdale (Claflin) and AU Vice Chancellor Furusa have set the environment for reactivating the Memorandum of Agreement and ensuring that it is a useful tool to provide direction for innovative research, teaching and community service now and in the future.

Also during our visit, the Minister (governor) of the Minicaland Province learned of our visit and changed her schedule to greet us. She is a United Methodist and wanted to assure us that AU is making a difference in Africa and encouraged us to continue to support this important institution. During her visit, she and her staff negotiated a project between the city and the university to improve trash collection and start a recycling program.

Furusa’s vision, especially adding 1,000 students, is a major step and implies infrastructure investment. Dormitories, faculty housing, a student union building, improved athletic facilities and a larger endowment fund all are future requirements.

Old Mutare Mission

The trip included a stop at the Old Mutare Mission, which was founded in the 1890s and is one of the oldest mission sites in Methodism. Africa University was given 1,600 acres of the original 13,000 acres belonging to the mission. The mission includes an orphanage, school system (preschool through grade 13), a medical clinic and Project Tariro (Project Hope). Project Tariro is an example of community outreach from the university and is a place for those infected with HIV. The rate of new infections has dropped significantly in Africa, but those with the disease do need help, and Project Tariro offers housing and medical assistance.

Dr. Tendai Manyeza is the medical superintendent for the Zimbabwe East Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and a General Board of Global Ministries missionary serving in Zimbabwe. In addition to overseeing the affairs of the Old Mutare Hospital, he is the consulting physician looking after students and staff at the Bishop Alfred Norris Health Clinic on the AU campus.

The Mutare hospital is doing exceptional ministry with limited resources. Improved laboratory equipment and an expanded maternity ward are high on their needs list. Some of us experienced a touching moment when we were preparing to leave. We were walking between the hospital and maternity buildings. We heard the sad wail of a wife who just lost her husband, and a heartbeat later we experienced the cry of a newborn. Malaria had claimed another victim. God was present—in both buildings.

Both Dr. Manyeza and Professor Furusa plan to visit the United States sometime this year.

Tourism time, too

We did have time to play tourist and visit Victoria Falls. The falls are impressive, roughly twice as high as Niagara at 354 feet and twice as wide as Horseshoe Falls (more than a mile wide, 5,604 feet). The park surrounding Victoria Falls is fenced and for good reason. The local animal population includes elephants, lions, water buffalos, hippopotamuses, giraffes, rhinoceroses, kudus, impalas, zebras, wildebeests, warthogs, crocodiles, baboons and monkeys. We had the opportunity to see these creatures on the four camera safaris.

The vegetation is neither jungle nor open grassland. It is bush country—trees and open areas with varying tree density. The hotel where we stayed while in Victoria Falls warned us to keep our doors and windows shut, as having a baboon explore your luggage equates to a bad day. Additionally, hippos come out of the water at night and graze on land; a late night encounter with one should not be on anyone’s bucket list.

On the way home, we stopped at the Apartheid Museum and Nelson Mandela’s residence in Johannesburg. Apartheid was a tragically sad time for South Africa. Perhaps it is a coincidence that this article was drafted on Feb. 11, the anniversary of Mandela’s release from prison in 1990.

Friends, our Bishop frequently challenges us with “what is your God sized vision?” Applying this question to AU and the Old Mutare Mission seems appropriate.

South Carolina, what is our God sized vision for these two valuable ministries?

Get Periodic Updates from the Advocate We never sell or share your information. You can unsubscribe from receiving our emails at any time.