Embattled Thabi Leoka removed from presidential council

Chickens have come home to roost for Thabi Leoka following the damaging exposé about her false claim to be in possession of a PhD degree.

Since the scandal rocked the country’s business sector and presidency, the highly respected economist has since gone underground. But that was before her determined effort to defend her degree claim failed to hit the mark. She had claimed her degree was completed with the London School of Economics.

More woes have followed Leoka with the Presidential Economic Advisory Council (PEAC) sending her packing.

On Monday, Leoka resigned as a non-executive director on the boards of MTN South Africa and Anglo-American Platinum (AngloPlat), citing her wish to attend to her health issues and deal with the concerns regarding her qualifications.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya, told Sunday World that Leoka has been yanked off PEAC with immediate effect.

This comes after the Presidency had asked her last week to provide the proof of her PhD degree and she has since failed to do so.

Magwenya said: “On Monday, the Presidency communicated to Ms Leoka for the immediate termination of her membership in the Presidential Economic Advisory Council.

“Ms Leoka was part of the 19-member panel of the Presidential Economic Advisory Council, a non-statutory body whose participation does not require formal vetting.

PEAC members are not paid by state

“The members volunteer their time, and they are not employed by the Presidency, nor are they remunerated by the state.”

Reacting to the scandal and Leoka’s resignation from MTN and AngloPlat, Black Management Forum (BMF) President Sibongile Vilakazi said the organisation was heartbroken over the scandal.

“[It is] becoming quite clearer” that Leoka does not have the PhD, Vilakazi said.

“When the story first came out, it was heartbreaking. We felt she needed protection, and there [could be] an explanation. We gave her the benefit of the doubt. But as the story progresses, it has become clear that she does not have the qualifications.

“A PhD is a research project. You qualify for a PhD because you have created knowledge. You must have done research on a specific topic. And that type of research gets published.

“It would be easy for her to refer anybody to the publication. If you doubt me, there is the publication. So, it is becoming quite clearer that it does not exist.

Leoka’s Masters degree was good enough

“It is unfortunate because she did not need it. She already had an MSc, which is a great qualification. She has proven her brilliance. No one has ever doubted her. That is why it was easy to assume that she has a PhD, because that’s how brilliant she is.

“The integrity part that comes in becomes something unfortunate for black professionals, especially being a black woman. We know these things. When you do well [as a black person], you are an individual [a black person who does well].

“When you do wrong [as a black person], suddenly black people and black women are like this. So, it is bad for all of us. We are very saddened by what has happened.

“But we do believe that everyone has to go through their own journey in life and learn the lessons that they need to learn… Whatever the lesson she has had to learn through this… It is a terrible thing to happen, fall from grace. Hopefully, she has learned whatever lesson she has learned.

“As BMF, we will continue to support our own and be a home for black professionals who are excelling in their spaces and who want to excel… We are all humans at the end of the day. 

“Sometimes we make mistakes. For as long as we learn from those mistakes and bounce back. That is what is important. We hope she will bounce back from this,” said Vilakazi.

Black Business Council (BBC) CEO Kganki Matabane said there was no need for Leoka to misrepresent her qualifications.

“Firstly, we would like to wish Thabi a speedy recovery. What is happening is very unfortunate. There was no need for Thabi to misrepresent her qualifications, as a Masters degree is more than sufficient for her to sit on any board anywhere in the world.

“This should be a lesson for all professionals to be truthful at all times. Companies should also do proper due diligence before appointing individuals to board,” Matabane said.

Cosatu saddened by scandal

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) acting national spokesperson, Matthew Parks, said the organisation is saddened by Leoka’s academic qualifications scandal.

Parks said only the London School of Economics and Leoka can factually confirm if the PhD existed.

“We have been watching this story closely, and it is sad to see this happening. Fortunately, we have a law in place that prevents people from fabricating qualifications because you do not want people in senior positions in government, municipalities, or business claiming qualifications that they do not have,” Parks said.

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