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Joburg Roads Agency lowered job qualifications and boosted salary level for CEO with fake doctorate

Joburg Roads Agency lowered job qualifications and boosted salary level for CEO with fake doctorate
Johannesburg Roads Agency CEO Tshepo Mahanuke. (Photo: Supplied)

Deputy Finance Minister David Masondo says he does not know suspended Joburg Roads Agency boss Tshepo Mahanuke, who claimed he was a mentor. The Gauteng government has ordered a forensics investigation into Mahanuke’s former company.

The Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA) lowered the qualifications for the CEO role to accommodate Tshepo Mahanuke, whom it suspended after a Daily Maverick investigation. This revealed he traded on a purchased honorary doctorate and a Harvard master’s degree that doesn’t exist.

The agency lowered the engineering and post-graduate job requirements for the agency’s chief. It boosted the salary to R3.5-million a year — more than double what the city’s mayor, Mpho Phalatse, earns. She is an actual doctor and makes R1.4-million a year.

The graphic above tells the story of how the JRA manipulated its job specs to accommodate Mahanuke. His previous business, the Gauteng Technical Manufacturing Initiative (GTMI), is facing a forensic investigation by the government for squandering millions of rands and producing nothing.

The 34-year-old Mahanuke’s only work experience was at GTMI, where he claimed to have “created” 11,000 jobs — according to his resumé. The Gauteng government says it contracted the GTMI to provide 1,000 retained and new work opportunities and to train 600 technical students for jobs.

Red flags

Auditors raised red flags about Mahanuke and his team’s management.

“The organisation in question is the subject of a forensics investigation,” the Gauteng Department of Economic Development said in a statement.

Mahanuke quit the GTMI two weeks after the department asked what had happened to the money since 2018, when funding began.

In August 2022, the JRA appointed him with a reportedly fake salary slip. He ended up earning R3.5-million a year, more than any previous CEO of the roads agency. Yet, Johannesburg’s roads are in a dire state and have been for a long time.

“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. There are constantly an average of 45,000 potholes across the city, even as the private insurance sector’s Pothole Patrol says it has fixed more than 60,000 potholes since May 2021.

Commuting in the city is a hazard, especially in the rainy season and with now permanent power cuts, either by Eskom or City Power, the Johannesburg energy utility. The city’s infrastructure is severely underfunded and the JRA has appointed two dodgy leaders in succession

Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations

Lowered qualifications

The graphic shows that since 2017, the JRA has steadily dropped qualification requirements and hiked the salary of its chief executive. When Mahanuke applied in 2022, the agency had changed the job specs to an NQF Level 7 qualification and a bachelor’s degree, adding “operations management” as a requirement. Mahanuke graduated in operations management.

“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,” said Professor Yunus Ballim, professor emeritus at the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Wits University. Ballim has studied the state of Johannesburg’s highways for the JRA.

“I expect that the CEO would have working knowledge and experience with urban planning and engineering infrastructure project management,” said Ballim.

“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.” 

Mahanuke did not satisfy the work experience requirement of 10 years in senior management with five years at the executive level, as set out in the job ads. Then, the JRA board signed off on a salary hike higher than the Department of Co-operative Government gazetted, which sets management salary levels for municipal government.

joburg roads ceo

The graphic above shows that Mahanuke was offered a salary that exceeded the highest allowable package for a Category 10 municipality (usually the biggest metros), where the best-qualified candidates should get an annual maximum of R3.147-million.

Mahanuke only got his B.Tech in operations management in 2018. 

The JRA has put Mahanuke on paid leave (about R290,000 a month) pending an investigation due today, November 30. Board chairperson Thabo Motloung said Mahanuke’s credentials would be “re-authenticated”.

Still, the Daily Maverick investigation shows the city authenticated neither his qualifications nor his experience ahead of his appointment. The JRA and the City of Johannesburg first said Mahanuke’s credentials had been independently vetted, then said they had only been internally vetted after the lies started revealing themselves as Daily Maverick peeled the onion. 

Pay to play 

ActionSA’s MMC for Transport, Funzi Ngobeni, endorsed Mahanuke’s qualifications in a statement on 17 November. Whistle-blowers revealed that Mahanuke insisted on being called “Doctor” despite his honorary doctorate from a Christian college called Trinity International University of Ambassadors (TIUA) in Illinois, US. The only way to get the honorary title is to pay, as can clearly be understood from the Trinity website.

“No evidence has been presented to me that Mr Mahanuke offered any inducements in return for an honorary award,” said Ngobeni, who added that he would not answer further questions until the investigation is completed.

Ngobeni said Mahanuke’s “doctorate” did not play a part in his getting the job. Still, this clip from an interview the JRA boss did with the city’s media service when he started working earlier in 2022 shows that he foregrounded being a “Doctor” and also said he was a Harvard graduate.

The master’s degree in Competitive Intelligence he claimed does not exist; neither does a Free State certificate Mahanuke claimed on his CV. Mahanuke also claimed Deputy Finance Minister David Masondo as a mentor.

“Deputy Minister Masondo and Mr Mahanuke worked in the same building years back in Rosslyn Supplier Park in Pretoria when the deputy minister was CEO of the Automotive Industry Development Centre and Mr Mahanuke was CEO of the Gauteng Tooling Initiative. That is the extent of their relationship,” said the National Treasury.

The suspended CEO also said he is a member of the Southern Africa Research and Innovation Management Association, but he is not listed on its register of professionals.


City asks for patience

Mahanuke did not only fool the city administration in Johannesburg and the Gauteng government. This image below from a Facebook post shows that Dan Kgwadi, the former vice-chancellor of the Vaal University of Technology and now a North-West University professor, believed Mahanuke to be a fellow professor.

The certificates Mahanuke submitted with his job application show Trinity also “conferred” on him the title of a professorship in Business Intelligence in December 2021.

Trinity is associated with the Evangelical Free Church of America and is ranked 1,759 out of 2,576 schools in the US, according to the College Factual 2022 analysis. Out of 102 colleges in Illinois, TIUA is ranked at number 74 and 82, respectively, in two different ranking systems.

It sells franchises to entrepreneurs who confer degrees for a price and then hold graduations with gowns. On its website, the TIUA says: “The expedient way of showing the world your knowledge, abilities, experience and talents is with your degree and use of your titles.”

Ngobeni’s office said it would not comment on Daily Maverick’s further questions, but would refer these to investigators. “We ask for patience while the process nears completion,” his office said. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Eric Reurts says:

    We need a teeny weeny adjustment in our investigation techniques/ procedurers. Instead of wasting more millions investigating millions wasted for very little if any result, we should do the following.
    Write a letter as follows
    Dear Sir / Madam
    Our records show that we paid you millions for ( specify performance agreed). We now demand that you within 48 hrs of receipt of this letter, either provide irrefutable proof of the work performed or pay back the money. Our banking details are on the bottom of this letter.
    Your sincerely
    The public servants of a gatvol people

    And there you are, for the cost of a hand delivered letter of demand, the entire investigation will be completed in 48 hrs. Either you have proof or you have a refund or you proceed with civil claim/ attaching of assets etc. This way you bypass the entire NPA machine. as well.
    How hard can it be.

  • Andrew Blaine says:

    What will this forensic enquiry achieve and who will foot the bill?
    This is another example showing how money is wasted?
    While infrastructure is collapsing, talking will conquer!!!! A national disaster will happen while those in charge are wasting time and money talking about it, instead of doing anything but jabber!

  • Tony Reilly says:

    DM please follow up and expose the clowns on the JRA Board who appointed this person…… they should all be fired !

    • virginia crawford says:

      This wilful incompetence is a form of corruption. R3.5 million can grease quite a few palms.

      • Jeremy Doveton-Helps says:

        More than simply a ‘form of corruption’… what possible reason could there be to change a job spec to directly refer to one specific applicant’s so-called credentials?
        Clearly, someone with the authority to make such a change had a direct and obvious interest in Mahanuke getting the job.

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    Seemingly a slam dunk case of fraud, with guilty parties scattered all over the place. Mahanuke must have fraud charges levelled against him to the tune of at least R3.5m, because that’s what he was trying to swindle from the City. If he has a fixed term contract (say five years), then charge him with fraud amounting to R17.5m. Whoever lied about the ‘independent vetting’ must be fired as well and charges of fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud and obstruction of justice thrown at them. If the JRA Board had any decency, the whole lot would resign immediately too. Don’t hold your breath.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    ActionSA MMC for Transport, Funzi Ngobeni. This is a political appointment firing him should be easy. Why has this not happened yet?

  • Palesa Tyobeka says:

    What does Mpho Phalatse’s qualifications have to do with this story? Is she the only person in the public service earning the appropriate salary? No need to be punting the DA even when it is not necessary. Stick to the story.

    • Derek Taylor says:

      I think the reference to Phalatse is valid, or are you just upset because she is DA.

    • Paddy Ross says:

      Her qualifications and salary in a very responsible position are absolutely relevant to this tale of fraud perpetrated by a number of individuals. The report refers to the mayor of Johannesburg but makes no reference to her political views so why do you introduce this irrelevance in your comment?

      • P B M .. says:

        Paddy, because anything that some people can turn into a political issue, they won’t miss the opportunity. Obviously Palesa Tyobeka is one of them.

    • D'Esprit Dan says:

      I didn’t read it as punting the DA, but as pointing out that the Executive Mayor, who actually holds a real doctorate, is paid R1.4m a year, as opposed to the charlatan with no doctorate (or Masters) gouging R3.5m from the same city: it was a good juxtaposition of the facts and never mentioned the political party she belongs to. Although since you’ve raised it, maybe it’s a good idea to reflect on the calibre of people the DA puts up as Mayor versus the machinations of the cadre-deployed JRA and their desperation to get ‘their man’ into the position. Transnet/Eskom/RET anyone?

    • Hulme Scholes says:

      The reference to the Mayor’s qualification is completely relevant. She is a medical doctor and is highly qualified. The clown 🤡 in the article bought a degree from some rubbish institution that shamelessly sells degrees and he earns more than twice what she does. Get with the program.

    • Jeremy Doveton-Helps says:

      The answer would seem to be obvious: Phalatse’s salary/qualifications have simply been used to ‘benchmark’ some sort of appropriate level for the most senior JHB civil servants. A group of which, Mahanuke clearly is not a competent member, despite being grossly over-paid, by any relevant measure (hence, again, the reference to Phalatse).

    • Ryckard Blake says:

      Palesa? Any relation to Ngeniswa or Bismark? If not, why so sensitive to fraudulent appointments of cronies to highly-paid positions, for which they do not remotely have the experience to qualify? Like Desperate Dan K too?
      Herman Mashaba must immediately suspend and replace Funzi Ngobeni, if he wants his ASA to come out of this outrage with any shred of credibility. And whoever appoints individuals to the JRA Board should fire all members who signed off on Fraud Mahanuke’s appointment. Even plumbers to the profession must know that any Head of JRA should have at least 15 years experience in municipal life-line engineering – No Ph.D required.
      . . . nuke them all, I say.

  • Ian Gwilt says:

    Don’t hold your breath waiting for action.
    Having a forensic audit is just a way of dragging things out and giving a contract to you favourite law firm.
    The person/entity under scrutiny will deny/appeal any finding and the circus continues.
    Meanwhile I assume he will be on full pay.

  • Ramabifi Kenneth Thobejane says:

    One simply gets depressed I tell you. Just so depressing. This criminal should be arrested post haste and all his assets seized.

  • Notinmyname Fang says:

    Loving this story!! Fire them all

  • Heinrich Heiriss says:

    Just a tiny correction in this article: Prof Dan Kgwadi is the current vice-chancellor of the Vaal University of Technology. Previously, he was the VC of the NWU.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Brought to us by none other than the useless, rotten to the core and corrupt ANC and its failed policy of cadre deployment and BEE at all costs. Incest on steroids!! That this vile bunch could even lower the minimum standards for qualification and at the same time, up the salary is hideous. That is the reality that this country has to deal with – deep rooted incompetence, corruption, mismanagement and jobs for pals and the connected. Force this fraudster and those morons who appointed him to repay all the money spent!!!

  • John Counihan says:

    Once again, failure to take decisive action when the misdemeanor is OBVIOUS! Is Ngobeni insane? Or compromised? Or both? Fie this JRA imposter NOW!

  • Rudd van Deventer says:

    What are his connections so that he gets this treatment? Maybe a bit more research into his background will unearth why he is so ‘special’.

  • Bob Marsden says:

    Mahunuke is clearly a constitutionally persuasive confabulator, similar to Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, or Jacob Zuma. Confabulation is making up descriptions of realities you don’t have access to. A consummate liar is one who knows his propositions are false, whereas a confabulator believes his own characterisations of realities are valid, true representations; thus his sincerity is persuasive.

    The issue here is the performative roles of the suckers, the deluded. How did Mahunuke gain access to these decision-makers so that they manipulated the qualification hurdles in his favour? These seem like after-the-event adjustments – the decision to appoint Mahunuke had already been made, perhaps before any formal interviews.

    The conclusions of the forensic investigation will either contain interesting truths along a definitive time-line, or else be unsatisfying because it wasn’t able to penetrate the mysteries of the covert social influences at play.

    Or, as De Alessi suggests, the investigation will find that the means of influence was through the ANC social institution of cadre deployment.

    • P B M .. says:

      Bobmarsden, confabulation is a noun meaning confidential conversation or chat. Collins English dictionary.

      • Jane Crankshaw says:

        Whatever the word is, it describes all of the above perfectly! Whether these liers really believe their own lies, their actions are premeditated and only self serving.

      • Bob Marsden says:

        Latin fabula story + con- together.

        When ‘together’ has the prepositional social sense, telling each other stories does have Collins’ first meaning – as in ‘having a confab’.

        But when it has a verbal constructive sense, putting stories together, it produces Collins’ second meaning: “2 psychiatry to replace the gaps left by a disorder of the memory with imaginary remembered experiences consistently believed to be true.”

        In neuropsychology, a cortical dysfunction prevents a person knowing or doing something specific, so they fill in with what fits to the context, knowing or doing what is roughly appropriate, even though it manifests as incongruous to others, but the person is unaware of its situational wrongness.

        A confabulator often uses metaphors, persuasive impressions, moral generalities, vague intentions to cloak their detachment from specific realities – Boris bridges, Make America Great Again, the free World, create economic growth, etc.

        Politicians invariably confabulate, unconsciously mimicking the persuasive techniques of advertising to inform people’s minds with empty impressions. Like some journalists, they make things up independent of empirical reports.

  • Malcolm Mitchell says:

    I wonder when people responsible for appointments for persons to handle complex engineering activities will realise that the Engineering Council’s statutory requirements are that this type of work can only be performed by a registered professional engineer, and not by cadre deployment!!

  • Johan Buys says:

    He did not get that job and that pay if he wasn’t connected. I shudder to imagine where next Mahanuke will pop up. Thankfully, DM will probably watch that space.

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