The invitation was issued in July by the deputy pro-vice-chancellor of the university’s South African campus, Dina Burger, when she and two other senior Monash staff met Mr Mugabe in his presidential office in the Zimbabwean capital Harare.
The meeting appears to have been part of a marketing exercise to encourage Zimbabwean students to attend the Monash South Africa campus and to thank Mr Mugabe’s regime for paying for several student scholarships as part of his ”presidential scholarship program”.
”Our visit to Zimbabwe was to demonstrate our commitment to the presidential scholarship program by coming to your beautiful country,” Professor Burger reportedly said.
"We invited the President to come to our university to give a public lecture, which he gladly accepted and would visit in the near future.”
An official appointed by Mr Mugabe to run his scholarship fund, Commander Christopher Mushohwe, said after the meeting: "The program is going to fulfil the Head of State and Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces President Robert Mugabe’s dream of according deserving students an opportunity to further their studies a reality."
Asked about the appropriateness of Professor Burger’s remarks, a spokeswoman for Monash University told The Age that the comments had not been approved and that ”no visits by President Mugabe to Monash … are planned”.
”The comments made by Professor Dina Burger in verbally inviting the President to visit Monash South Africa and meet students sponsored by the Zimbabwe government were not endorsed by Monash University and was not an official invitation to visit the campus,” the spokeswoman said.
She said that Monash University believed educating students sponsored by Mr Mugabe would help contribute ”to a better Zimbabwe”.
The scholarship program was set up ostensibly to support poor students but it has been accused of favouring supporters of the Mugabe regime.
In September 2002 Australia implemented a sanctions regime targeting Zimbabwe, which included downgrading government and cultural links and restricting travel to Australia by some Mugabe regime officials.
After coming to power in 1980, Mr Mugabe began replacing his professed commitment to freedom and democracy with an increasingly oppressive, corrupt and authoritarian system of governance.
Mr Mugabe visited Australia in 1981 to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. He was still well regarded around the world at that time.
Deakin University senior lecturer in international relations Scott Burchill said the reported comments made during the Monash delegation’s trip to Zimbabwe were an anathema to the values and ethics that should be promoted by Australian universities.
”These ethics are put at risk, however, if a university is seen to endorse an odious and tyrannical regime, such as Robert Mugabe’s in Zimbabwe, simply for the purposes of recruiting students from that country,” Dr Burchill said.
”Universities should remain at a professional length from partisan politics, and instead restate their support for the foundations of all liberal democracies. Regimes like Mugabe’s radically violate these values. They should not be given a public platform by an Australian university to trash them further.”
Professor Burger did not respond to questions from The Age. -Brisbane Times