Prasa engineer's degree collapses under slight pressure

19 July 2015 - 02:00 By S'THEMBISO MSOMI

He was singled out at a number of political events as an excellent example of how post-apartheid South Africa helps its young realise their potential. The alleged holder of a doctorate in electrical engineering from a German university and, at 34, the head of a drive to modernise the country's railway system, Daniel Mtimkulu seemed the perfect poster boy for black excellence and the ANC-led government's success.story_article_left1ANC Western Cape MPL Cameron Dugmore waxed lyrical about Mtimkulu's "incredible story" in the legislature, telling colleagues how this engineer was "part of the team [that designed] Prasa [Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa] locomotives".He said: "This is a black South African who has been given the opportunity [to] study. And it shows that the investment which the ANC has made in education to support public works and infrastructure, is something [to] celebrate."When Prasa's new locomotives came under scrutiny amid claims they were unsuitable for South Africa's rail infrastructure, CEO Lucky Montana - who was axed this week - suggested those raising questions were racist."Maybe [it is] because he is black that his authority is not taken seriously," Montana said at a news conference.Even when new evidence began to emerge casting doubt on Mtimkulu's impressive qualifications, Montana and many others refused to entertain the thought that the young engineer could be a con artist.Yet on Friday, with Montana out of Prasa, Mtimkulu was suspended after an internal investigation revealed he "lacked the necessary qualifications".Prasa group chief strategy officer Sipho Sithole says the internal probe had "established that Mtimkulu did enrol for mechanical engineering at the [Vaal University of Technology], but he did not complete his programme". Mtimkulu's claims of having obtained a PhD from Germany, added Sithole, were also not true."Mtimkulu did attend Technische Universität München but he did not obtain a PhD there, contrary to [his] claims."Prasa had suspended Mtimkulu pending a disciplinary hearing and the agency would also investigate why no one had ever verified his qualifications, said Sithole.Although Mtimkulu could not be reached for comment, Prasa insiders said that a day after Montana was fired, Mtimkulu approached members of the board in a bid to give them his side of the story. He is said to have told board members that he had long informed management he did not hold a PhD.story_article_right2The disciplinary inquiry would determine if Mtimkulu had indeed informed his bosses about this.But Prasa insiders contradicted Mtimkulu and denied that he had ever come clean about his qualifications. They said attempts to get clarity from him came to nought.Red lights should have flashed for Prasa as early as the beginning of the year.In an interview he gave to Drum magazine then, Mtimkulu claimed to have studied engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand and registered for his studies at 17.However, he had apparently told colleagues that he did his junior studies at Wits Technikon and then later, Vaal.He also claimed he did his master's at the University of Munich, but told colleagues he studied at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology for an MA and PhD.

This article is reserved for Sunday Times subscribers.

A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times content.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Registered on the BusinessLIVE, Business Day or Financial Mail websites? Sign in with the same details.

Questions or problems? Email or call 0860 52 52 00.