From Zimbabwe to the Schar School: A Journey of Resilience

Schar School of Policy and Government student Pearl Matibe
Pearl Matibe: ‘I am experiencing a place where I can stretch my understanding and where my intellectual curiosity can explore challenging and complex international relations questions.’

“In Zimbabwe, I lost my freedom of speech. In America, I regained it,” said Pearl Matibe, a freshman government and international politics major at the Schar School of Policy and Government.

Matibe, whose story was published in the recent Schar School magazine, The Pulse, will represent the school on Thursday, August 5, during George Mason University’s OSCAR Virtual Summer Celebration of Student Scholarship. She will present the results of her study, AI Supremacy (2016-2021): A Comparative Study of the State of Ethical National AI Strategies and Human Capital Challenges and Opportunities. The presentation will be available for viewing at the Office of Scholarship, Creative Activities, and Research website.

Matibe had to leave Zimbabwe due to the ruthless regime headed by Robert Mugabe. Once a revolutionary fighting against British Colonialism and apartheid racial segregation in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Mugabe consolidated power at the expense of his people. Zimbabwe’s drastic food insecurity and hyperinflation were mild issues when compared to the political climate.

She wrote about her experiences leaving Zimbabwe in her critically acclaimed autobiography Defining Pearl.

“Living in safe houses is a reassuring step to take in a country where people are kidnapped, disappeared, and thousands murdered,” Matibe said, remembering her own experiences during Mugabe’s reign. “My home was burned by militia—youths led by former combatants of the liberation war [against the British] with implicit approval of Robert Mugabe—and the farmland seized by the government.”

Matibe fled Zimbabwe and eventually made her way to the United States. “I left Zimbabwe’s still-violent places filled with atrocities, because the autocratic government targeted me for belonging to a pro-democracy group. It was the stuff of nightmares,” she said.

Once Matibe arrived in the United States, she began looking for work. “My resilience did not evaporate,” she said.

Matibe completed a hotel-management certificate from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and was working as a reporter when she decided to pursue a full college education. It was difficult, she said, for her to prove she had any prior education when it came time to apply to college—Mugabe’s regime had burned the British records.

Fortunately, the United Kingdom kept copies of colonial documents in London and Matibe was able to retrieve her school records so that she could apply to George Mason University, and more specifically to the Schar School to learn about government and politics.

That decision is already paying off.

“I am experiencing a place where I can stretch my understanding and where my intellectual curiosity can explore challenging and complex international relations questions,” Matibe said.

“In the classroom, from critical analysis of significant theories of international relations to understanding how geopolitical and global pressures impact international politics to increasing my ability to articulate and apply aspects of political philosophy and social theories rooted in science, I am gaining a solid basis of knowledge in different theories to understand international relations. I am increasing my critical reasoning of complicated moral challenges in the concept of democracy—how you create it, how you defend it, and how you sustain it.”

“[The Schar School] has many events in my area of interest every week, which I attend, where I hear from knowledgeable people with unique expertise,” she said. “I particularly enjoy the Michael V. Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy, and International Security events and various speaker series including on elections and American government.”

Matibe added that she would like to pursue an accelerated Master’s in International Security degree at the Schar School. The program allows students to earn a master’s degree in a substantially reduced amount of time.

The location of the Schar School was also important to her, she said.

“I am able to do all this on the backdrop of Washington, D.C., and take advantage of the active political environment of this city,” she said.