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Joburg Roads Agency boss bought a doctorate and claimed a Harvard Business School master’s degree that doesn’t exist

Joburg Roads Agency boss bought a doctorate and claimed a Harvard Business School master’s degree that doesn’t exist
Bolani Street pothole between Mndeni and Snake park in Soweto. | New Canada bridge. | Chris Hani Road in Soweto is mostly flooded on rainy days. | Buccleuch bridge. (Photos: Leon Sadiki)

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.

joburg roads agency mndeni

A Bolani Street pothole between Mndeni and Snake Park in Soweto. (Photo: Leon Sadiki)

joburg roads agency meadowlands

A pothole on Forbes street in Meadowlands, Soweto. (Photo: Leon Sadiki)

joburg roads agency sinkhole

Nancefield road is closed. Motorists are now forced to use alternative routes after the road developed a sinkhole. (Photo: Leon Sadiki)

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.

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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.

joburg roads agency chris hani

A hole on Chris Hani Road. (Photo: Leon Sadiki)

joburg roads agency Chris Hani

Chris Hani Road in Soweto is mostly flooded on rainy days. (Photo: Leon Sadiki)

joburg roads agency buccleuch

Buccleuch bridge. (Photo: Leon Sadiki)

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.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Another typically ANC connected and appointed cadre – useless, false, fraudulent and arrogant- brought to us by an equally useless, false, fraudulent and arrogant party. This nightmare foisted on the nation just keeps on going from strength to strength!!

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    What an absolute shambles. Here’s hoping heads will roll. Viva, ANC, Viva.

  • Willem Boshoff says:

    Excellent expose; keep it up!

  • virginia crawford says:

    Liars and fools appointed by other liars and fools. The delusions of grandeur would be laughable and pathetic if it wasn’t so dangerous. The agency that vetted him should be exposed and the whole board replaced. More details about these incompetents please DM.

  • Paul T says:

    Someone who lies on their CV does not have the integrity to lead a government agency. He should be dismissed on that basis. If the JRA board don’t understand that they should also be replaced.

  • Tony Reilly says:

    The individuals in the JRA who appointed this muppet should be exposed and held to account ……….obviously some under the table shenanigans at play !

  • Mike Blackburn says:

    It’s unclear to me who is responsible for this appointment. Is this character a DA or an ANC appointee? either way, completely unacceptable and yet another symptom of the malaise that affects service delivery in this country.

    • Steven Burnett says:

      In the article it is mentioned he was appointed by leaders from ActionSA. However at age 34 you are quite likely to be political party agnostic, and following the money.

    • D'Esprit Dan says:

      My understanding is that it is neither – it is a JRA appointment. The City of Joburg has 12 independent ‘companies’ or entities, each with its own board and management team that operates as an independent ‘service delivery’ agency. So have JRA, City Power, City Parks, Joburg Property Company etc etc etc. I’m assuming that because they’re all constituted with a board and management team, that they are responsible for the appointments and should be held accountable for them. Obviously, the bulk of these boards and management teams would have been appointed during the ANCs years of cadre deployment and crony capitalism, so you can probably join the dots in many instances.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    This story just adds another level of fraud to the already long list of corrupt practises by the politically connected….not surprising when so little “due diligence” in both business and politics, is done these days.
    That in itself is a product of racist BEE policies where people are employed based on the colour of their skin rather than their experience and competence.

  • John Smythe says:

    One has to laugh at these clowns.
    Otherwise we’ll all go mad.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    I get so angry having to read articles like that every morning. The rot is everywhere and spreads beyond the ANC. Herman Mashaba has never answered questions raised concerning a fleet contract where the EFF apparently benefited when he was mayor of Joburg. It is just disgusting.

  • John Counihan says:

    This is beyond fraud and lying and continuing ANC subterfuge. This buffoon must be suffering from a psychological disorder to prance around insisting he be called Doctor, Professor, Your Royal Highness etc. Insanity! But it’s all so ingrained in ANC culture that it goes on and on, every day.

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    Moneyweb has a lead story this morning that around half of SA’s infrastructure has either collapsed or is near collapse. When you mix this kind of appointment, apparently based on lies and deception, with the corruption and cronyism of the ANC, and the fact that it appears that political parties in SA are only concerned with power, not service delivery, it is no wonder the country is in such a dire state.

    The ANC and EFF couldn’t wait to get rid of the DA mayor in Ekurhuleni, but so keen were they to get their hands back on the purse, they couldn’t be bothered to actually form a workable coalition before getting rid of her – and subsequently left the city rudderless for weeks whilst they bickered over the spoils. I see Action SA has decided to join the party there too, today.

    Almost every municipality in SA is facing collapse, but the ANC continues to simply appoint cronies with no ability whatsoever to key posts and washes its hands of the consequences. It is disgusting.

  • Graeme J says:

    The head of personnel for the city of Joburg has been weighed in the balance and found wanting. Sack the individual concerned, along with the fraudulent “doctor”.

  • Nicol Mentz says:

    Great expose of failed BBEEE policy and incompetence. I refuse to believe there is not a suitable appropriately qualified civil engineer available. Losing respect for Action SA if are responsible for the JRA.

  • Gerhard Vermaak says:

    300k per month and this guy wouldn’t even know if the hole in his driveway is a pothole or a sinkhole or how to fix it, mind you at that salary he will overpay someone to fix it.

  • Mike Rolfe says:

    The roads are a complete shamble – mainly due to potholes and unfinished repair work created by Johannesburg Water attending to burst pipes and then leaving the site in an incomplete state. Mountains of sand piled up, large holes, destroyed roads due to excavation in order to access damaged pipes. The rot is setting in – our City is rapidly becoming a broken down, dangerous and unsightly mess.
    Why are we paying rates to the useless bunch – we should all boycott them.

  • Johan Marais says:

    OK, so the JRA now is the responsibility of Action SA in the coalition council. We should see now if Herman Mashaba and Action SA is going to “put their money where their mouth is”

  • Russ H says:

    Plain and simple misrepresentation by this scum. You need a CA or an Engineer with construction experience to run a critical business of this size, not somebody with a nonsense degree from an unheard of so-called university. Whoever employed this individual should be fired.

  • Patrick O'Shea says:

    I wonder if his thesis was “Local Government for Dummies”.

    • Heinz Eckart Klingelhöfer says:

      For an honorary doctorate you don´t need to write a thesis. Actually, in case of an honorary doctorate some or even all of the usual requirements to become a doctor are waived. You “just” get it conferred for honorary reasons (“honoris causa”), meaning that it has a little bit the nature of an award – and, actually, it might be a very reputed one (depending on the university). Hence, although indeed academic, it is also a little bit ridiculous to claim that “his academic qualifications are not being respected by staff”.
      However, while a National Diploma is indeed not an “undergraduate engineering degree”, but less (hence, as correctly stated above: again a misrepresentation), the Baccalaureus Technologiae from Vaal University would indeed be an undergraduate degree. However, instead of engineering, it is in operations management – which falls under management.

  • Patterson Alan John says:

    Welcome to the failed State.
    It is impossible to imagine that the level of incompetence and the entrenched criminal activities that permeate every nook and cranny of Govenment, can ever be eliminated.

  • Chris 123 says:

    Are any ANC appointed cadres actually qualified for any job they are given. I’m sure brown envelopes are part of his qualifications as well.

  • Malcolm Mitchell says:

    This is just another example of most of govt depts. at all levels not conforming to the requirements of the Engineering Council of South Africa’s requirement that all complex engineering projects must be carried out by a registered professional engineer, not a technologist! Unless this requirement is enforced our infrastructure will continue to deteriorate and eventually vanish. Where I live neither the heads of the Water or the Electricity Departments are professional engineers.
    On the subject of potholes on Jhb. there is a world-wide rule of thumb that good road authorities should repair them within 48 hours of them occurring.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    How is it possible that these people can be so incompetent!? I agree with Trump about one thing. We fall into a whole new category as a turd world country.

  • Geoff Woodruff says:

    My taxes help to pay the salary of this charlatan, I demand a refund. Also we need a vetting panel to vet the vetting panel.

  • Ruda Landman says:

    I want to cry. Any idea why THIS person, Ferial?

  • Rob vZ says:

    Love the audacity of buying a doctorate and insisting your staff respect your education and call you Doctor. What a legend (in his own mind)!

  • Roslyn Cassidy says:

    It is said that the IFP run the JRA.

  • Lesley Young says:

    This article appeared in November last year. It is now 2023, is this clown still there???

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