Degrees-for-sale scam rocks Zululand varsity

31 July 2016 - 02:03 By MZILIKAZI wa AFRIKA and KYLE COWAN
A qualification and graduation hat. File photo.
A qualification and graduation hat. File photo.
Image: Thinkstock Images.

A probe into a new degrees-for-sale scandal that has rocked the University of Zululand shows that more than 4000 people may have paid for fake degrees there over the past 20 years.

The university held an extraordinary senate meeting on Monday, at which a proposal was made to investigate all postgraduate degrees in law, business management, public administration and education.

Some current and former students have threatened on social media to name and shame those who are believed to have bought fake degrees on the university's two campuses in Kwa- Dlangezwa and Richards Bay.

Police believe the latest scam involves 400 to 500 fake degrees - many of which were teaching qualifications.

Investigating officer Captain Louis Helberg could not give more details, but confirmed that claims had been made by sources on campus that more than 4000 people had bought their academic qualifications from the university since 1996 - most of them from a similar degrees-for-sale scandal that rocked the university in 2008.

"I am investigating cases of fraud, corruption, defeating [the] ends of justice and extortion," Helberg said.

Two university employees - an internal investigating officer and an examination official -- were suspended last month in connection with the latest scam. But Helberg said he was "looking into more than two people".

It is believed the latest investigation was sparked after staff conducting a job interview became suspicious when a University of Zululand graduate applying for a position could not speak any English.

The university is the alma mater of some of the country's top brass, including State Security Minister David Mahlobo and former National Prosecuting Authority boss Mxolisi Nxasana. In 2009, SAA board chairwoman Dudu Myeni came under fire for claiming to have a BA degree from the university. She later clarified that she was studying towards the degree.

In 1997, five staff members were suspended after an investigation confirmed they had accepted money to alter student records. They allegedly made R260,000 selling 15 fake degrees.

Another scam was exposed in 2007, when about 80 students were deregistered after it was established they did not have matric certificates. They allegedly bribed university officials to get entrance exams to the university.

Deputy vice-chancellor Neil Garrod said some of the officials alleged to have bought degrees "did not graduate from our university. Any false document they may have would have been generated outside the university system." He added that the university would probe the claims.

Garrod, however, said the university system was intact.

"It is, therefore, denied that it is easy to buy a degree from the University of Zululand. The university cannot control fake documents generated outside its system," he said.

Lucky Khanyile, a former student tutor, told the Sunday Times this week how, in 2007 and 2008, he had doctored the results of more than 1000 students who had failed.

His fee was between R500 and R5,000 per module.

Khanyile and Bongekile Manqele, a fellow student tutor, were convicted of fraud in the Durban Commercial Crimes Court in February 2014. They received a five-year suspended jail sentence, a fine, 16 hours' community service and six months' house arrest.

"It was wrong what we did, even though we were helping struggling students pass," he said.

"Now I am unemployed with a criminal record for my role while those I helped have posh jobs."

Thulani Zikhali, who graduated from the University of Zululand this year and was a state witness against Khanyile and Manqele, said the scam remained intact.

Public protector Thuli Madonsela has been asked to probe the scandal. Her spokesman, Oupa Segalwe, confirmed that Madonsela was considering the request.