Joburg Roads Agency boss bought a doctorate and claimed a Harvard Business School master’s degree that doesn’t exist
While Joburg’s 12,000km road network is in a state of collapse, the head of the city’s road agency insists staff call him ‘Dr’ on the strength of an honorary doctorate which can be bought.
The Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA) has hired a CEO who claims a Harvard master’s degree that doesn’t exist and demands his staff call him ‘Dr’ Tshepo Mahanuke on the strength of an honorary doctorate you can buy for a small donation.
The JRA appointed Mahanuke in August after “diligent” checks and verification by an agency it won’t name. Republic Monakedi, the CEO Mahanuke replaced, was a twice-failed Limpopo municipal manager who quit as Johannesburg’s 12,000km road network went from bad to worse.
The city still has an average of 45,000 potholes at any one time, even after the private sector’s Pothole Patrol fixed more than 50,000 in the past 18 months. The number of potholes is calculated by resident reports and by JRA visual inspections. They are dangerous and cause accidents, especially in the rain. The Pothole Patrol has calculated R650-million in pothole damages to cars since it started counting.
“The status of the [road] network ranges from poor to very poor and requires rehabilitation or reconstruction,” according to the latest JRA quarterly report. The report says 68 city bridges need urgent repair.
Senior staff at the JRA have told Daily Maverick Mahanuke insists on being called ‘Dr’; in his resumé, he calls himself “Hon. Dr Tshepo Mahanuke”. If memorandums sent to him are not addressed to ‘Dr’, he sends them back, saying his academic qualifications are not being respected by staff. A source said he had been told to call him either ‘Dr’ or ‘Professor’.
Staff at the JRA are racking up sick leave as the workplace turns toxic: the latest report to the council shows staff have taken 1,910 sick-leave days compared with 1,530 annual leave days.
The JRA board said staff had not escalated the issues to them.
Mahanuke’s qualifications are either lies or overstated in the documents that got him a R3.5-million-a-year job for which he is wholly underqualified, a Daily Maverick investigation has found. The JRA says he must be given time to prove himself.
Here are the details:
- Mahanuke’s December 2019 honorary doctorate from the Trinity International University of Ambassadors (TIUA) can be bought for a small “support honorarium”. Trinity, a poorly-ranked evangelical Christian university in the US, says “the expedient way of showing the world your knowledge, abilities, experience and talents is with your degree and use of your title”.
- His resumé and CV also claim he has a master’s degree in “Competitive Intelligence” from ACI College, Harvard Business School. Harvard does not offer such a master’s degree and ACI (Academy for Competitive Intelligence) is a separate college.
- At a farewell ahead of his appointment at the JRA, Mahanuke was also called ‘Professor’ — in December 2021, TIUA also conferred Mahanuke with the title of a professorship in “Business Intelligence and Strategic Alliance”.
- His resumé says he received his “undergraduate engineering degree from the Vaal University of Technology (VUT)”, but it is, in fact, a diploma for a course to become an engineering technician. This is an under-qualification for the complex job of fixing the country’s largest city road network.
Mahanuke is 34 years old, and the JRA hired him on the strength of his purported work experience, which adequate vetting would have shown to be untrue. He would, for example, have started working in 2010 before he began studying at VUT. The one business he claims to have created, the Gauteng Technical Manufacturing Initiative, has one small business case study in a field unrelated to roads or transport. Mahanuke claims to have provided 11,000 job opportunities in the manufacturing sector. There is no evidence he was a student or business young miracle.
It’s all good, says the JRA
The JRA board said: “We wish to advise that Mr Mahanuke was employed on the basis that he has the minimum degree as per the job advert. The recruitment panel considered the minimum NQF qualification required only. A PhD was not a prerequisite for this position.”
Mahanuke does not have a degree; the JRA also confused the question about a purchased honorary doctorate with a PhD.
“A credible and external verification provider was used, and the critical information required for the recruitment process was provided. We trust the information provided by our service provider,” said the JRA.
Asked why Mahanuke is paid R3.5-million a year when Monakedi was paid R2.5-million, the entity said: “The Section 56 employees and related acts are remunerated as per the Cogta guidelines and CoJ policies, therefore, in determining the pay for the CEO the principles inherent in the policies and guidelines were applied.” Mahanuke does not have the qualifications or experience to explain the big bump up.
Daily Maverick pointed out to the JRA that Mahanuke’s CV claims are overblown. For example, it says that in 2010, he “led and mobilised a team of engineering technical experts to do world-class engineering equipment maintenance”. He started studying in 2010.
The JRA board responded: “The CEO has only been in the employment of the company for a period of three months, it is only fair to accord him the time and the space to execute in accordance with his employment contract and performance contract between the CEO and the Board of Directors.”
The JRA has referred to Mahanuke as ‘Dr’ in its reports to the Johannesburg City Council, but the board dropped the appellation when it answered Daily Maverick’s questions.
Johannesburg mayor Mpho Phalatse said she had “noted the allegations” that Mahanuke had “misrepresented himself in the recruitment process” and that “we take these allegations very seriously”.
Phalatse said in a statement that she had asked transport MMC Funzela Ngobeni and JRA board chairperson Thabo Motloung for a full report on the matter. “We will keep the public informed of any decision and steps taken on the matter. This matter must be addressed urgently and with full integrity.”
Inappropriate to use the title ‘Dr’
“TIUA is indeed a small university in the US that appears to focus on biblical studies. The university is formally recognised as a private higher education provider and it does offer a small range of programmes at the doctoral study level,” said Professor Yunus Ballim, professor emeritus at the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Wits University.
“If the CEO obtained his doctoral degree through formal registration, successful completion of the necessary coursework and research project, together with submission of a thesis based on the research work and properly examined, the use of the title ‘Dr’ is appropriate and should be encouraged.
“However, if this is an honorary doctorate awarded by TIUA, the conditions for the use of the title are different. Universities offer the honorary doctorate for a range of reasons. The convention at South African universities as well as at other universities around the world is that the title ‘Dr’ may only be used by the honorary graduate in communications or references that are specifically associated with the university where the honorary doctorate was granted.
“Recipients of honorary doctorates (President Nelson Mandela as a good local example) understand this and do not use what is essentially an academic and scholarly title. If Mr Mahanuke holds an honorary doctorate from TIUA, it would be most inappropriate for him to use the title ‘Dr’ in his interactions and communications at the JRA.”
Mahanuke’s doctorate is honorary. TIUA is ranked 1,759 out of 2,576 colleges in the US College Factual 2022 analysis. Out of the 102 colleges in Illinois, TIUA is ranked 74 and 82 on two different rankings, according to research commissioned by Daily Maverick.
Driving in Johannesburg is hazardous
Johannesburg’s roads are menacing. Potholes make driving like a dodgem ride at a fun fair. Major arterial roads are breaking and surfaces lifting.
“The status of most of the [12,000km] network ranges from poor to very poor and requires rehabilitation or reconstruction,” says the latest JRA report to the city. Traffic lights at the city’s 2,135 intersections, which also fall under the JRA, are often on the blink as vandalism, cable theft, age and rolling blackouts take a toll. The city’s asphalt plant has collapsed amid corruption and political instability, so tar and other shortages are standard.
The private sector’s Pothole Patrol (a partnership between insurance companies Discovery and Dial Direct) has filled more than 60,000 potholes since May 2021, but this is a premier client service, so it is mostly on suburban roads. In Soweto, eight critical hotspots are flood-prone, and roads are so dangerous that residents barricade them.
Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations
Summer rainfall in the city is forecast to be higher than average this year, and when the storms arrive, the roads flood, making them dangerous for pedestrians and commuters. The M1 highway has become flood-prone, and it carries the highest volume of traffic in the city and in the country.
Stormwater drains have yet to be maintained, causing road flooding every summer. About 1,168km of Johannesburg roads are unsurfaced, according to Engineering News, but the resurfacing and surfacing plans have been put on hold.
Monakedi reconstituted a bid adjudication committee. The JRA’s annual budget is R1.7-billion in 2022/23, and it spends a substantial portion on procurement, so bid adjudication is the cherry-on-the-top portfolio of the agency. In the quarter to September 2022, there was little progress on planned infrastructure “as the procurement of professional services is at a standstill as contracts have not been awarded as yet”, the report says.
An engineer with appropriate experience should lead the JRA
Mahanuke claims an “undergraduate engineering degree” in his biography, but his submitted documents and the VUT certificate he submitted shows he studied for a National Diploma in Mechanical Engineering. The purpose of this diploma is to study toward becoming a competent practising mechanical engineering technician.
The head of the JRA should have a background in civil engineering, says Ballim, who has done studies on the state of Johannesburg’s highways. He says: “The work of the JRA is both complex and critical. Johannesburg is an important economic area of our country with a high population density and needs good quality and well-maintained road infrastructure.
“It is also a city that is ambitious about its future contributions to economic and social development — an ambition that the city cannot realise without proper road infrastructure. Its impact was well demonstrated by the collapse and closure of the M2 East and West in 2018/2019.
“In the provision and operation of such infrastructure, the senior executive of the JRA must have a good background in civil engineering, both in educational qualification and in their professional experience as essential technical competencies. Such a person would require a fundamental knowledge of structural engineering, bridge design and construction, and engineering materials analysis.
“In addition, I expect that the CEO would have working knowledge and experience with urban planning and engineering infrastructure project management. I would also expect that the person would demonstrate competence at the master’s degree level (without necessarily having a master’s degree) — which is an ability to formulate research-based investigation questions. Of course, this is aside from the expected management and leadership competencies that are normally required of such a position,” said Ballim.
ActionSA is responsible for the JRA
When a coalition runs a metropolitan government, power is distributed by positions. The transport portfolio falls under Herman Mashaba’s ActionSA, and MMC Funzi Ngobeni heads it. Ngobeni did not respond to questions about JRA’s political oversight and the CEO’s appointment. Under the IFP, which previously held the transport portfolio, the party appointed Albert Mokoena as JRA chairperson. He was the former director-general of home affairs fired by Thabo Mbeki for running a basketball team from his office and was also a disaster at the JRA. DM
Ferial Haffajee’s latest book, Days of Zondo is now available at the Daily Maverick Shop. We deliver for free anywhere in South Africa.