Africa University's new leader: 'Right kind of role model'

Africa University’s vice chancellor has “a rags-to-riches story” as a first-generation college graduate, said the keynote speaker at the inauguration of Munashe Furusa, the United Methodist-related university’s new leader.

“It is a rags-to-riches story when no one in your family has done it and you reach the top of the university,” said Tawana Kupe, deputy vice chancellor at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, South Africa. Kupe was a mentor when Furusa was a student at the University of Zimbabwe.

Inauguration, Africa University, vice chancellor, higher education, installation, Munashe Furusa“He’s therefore the right kind of role model for students at Africa University,” Kupe said, adding that Furusa demonstrates what perseverance and dedication can accomplish.

Bishops and other dignitaries from The United Methodist Church attended the ceremony March 21, along with Zimbabwean government officials, chiefs, ambassadors and local business leaders, as well as students and faculty.

Furusa called Africa University a “product of the rich legacy of The United Methodist Church” of starting education and health institutions. “Student success is our way of renewing Africa and investing in its future,” he said.

The vice chancellor serves as chief executive of the university. Before coming to Africa University about eight months ago, Furusa was dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at California State University, Dominquez Hills, where he was successful in establishing public-private partnerships that provided internships and job opportunities for students.

Furusa, a Zimbabwean, promised that over the next few years, the university would boost its research and technology efforts. Furusa said staff in a new research office would work with professors to get grants for research.

Furusa acknowledged during the meeting of the university’s board of directors that the institution faces many problems, including aging buildings, overcrowded dorms and the need to hire more professors with doctorates to retain accreditation with the Zimbabwe government.

Everything seems urgent, Furusa said, but he added that his strategy is to “prune and grow” at the same time, shifting resources to programs that need to grow. 

During his inaugural address, he spoke of accepting the leadership of Africa University with “great joy” because of his commitment to its pan-African mission. The university has about 1,500 students from 26 countries. “Africa happens every day at Africa University,” has become his mantra.

More than 5,300 graduates are taking leadership roles in business, politics and health care around the continent, and many speakers talked about Africa University’s important role in providing leaders to solve the political and economic problems of the continent.

Students praised Furusa for being open to their concerns and for already making changes, such as setting up a gym room.

Daniel Njorama, a student from Zimbabwe, said Furusa brings “a new perspective on leadership.”

“He held a student address where we aired our concerns. I really respected that,” Njormana said.

Rangarira Pashapa, the student representative to the board of directors, spoke on behalf of the students during the inauguration. “It means so much that we have a vice chancellor that cares so much about us and our social welfare,” he said.

Church and university connection

Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa, Africa University, Zimbabwe Episcopal Area, United Methodist Church, installation, students, higher education,Zimbabwe Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa praised Furusa for embracing The United Methodist Church as the university’s “perpetual friend.”

“You have all our support,” Nhiwatiwa said, noting local United Methodists were pleased when Furusa attended the Ebenezer Convention, a convention in Harare that was attended by 55,000 United Methodists in August 2014.

Bishop Marcus Matthews, vice chair of the AU board and leader of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, looks forward to Furusa’s leadership, saying the new vice chancellor’s years in higher education in the U.S. and his experience in development will be good for Africa University.

“He told me that his dream was to end his academic career in Zimbabwe, giving back to Africa. It’s kind of a dream fulfilled,” Matthews said.

Story by Vicki Brown, news editor for United Methodist News Service. Taurai Emmanuel Maforo, communicator of the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church, contributed to this story. Photos by Vicki Brown and Andra Stevens.