The chairperson of the SABC lied to Parliament about her qualifications.
Ellen Tshabalala – who President Jacob Zuma appointed last October to head the public broadcaster’s board – claimed to have a commerce degree and a postgraduate diploma.
In her CV before the parliamentary portfolio committee on communications, which interviewed her for a board position, Tshabalala said she graduated from Unisa with a BCom and a postgraduate diploma in labour relations.
This claim was repeated in a statement by the presidency announcing her appointment.
But the university’s response to a Promotion of Access to Information Act application sent by City Press revealed she has neither of those qualifications.
In a letter sent this week, Jan van Wyk, the university’s executive director of legal services and information, wrote: “According to our records, no qualification was awarded to the mentioned individual”.
Attempts to obtain comment from Tshabalala this week were unsuccessful.
Besides the Unisa qualifications, her CV before Parliament detailed an incomplete master’s degree in engineering business management from Warwick University in the UK. Tshabalala also listed an International Licentiate Diploma of Banking from the Institute of Bankers of SA, and a certificate in corporate governance and risk management from the Milpark Business School in Joburg, which declined to comment.
Tshabalala was appointed to the Transnet board in 2010. On the parastatal’s website, her CV lists the Unisa B Com degree and postgraduate diploma, as well as the banking qualification.
As I recall, she made an indication she’d lost or misplaced the original certificates of the degrees. I recall her indicating she’d requested new certificates from the institutions and had made affidavits to this effect.
Sikhumbuzo Kholwane, former chairperson of Parliament’s portfolio committee on communications
Presidency spokesperson Mac Maharaj said on Friday Parliament had recommended candidates for the SABC board and Zuma had acted on its recommendation.
About Tshabalala’s qualifications, Maharaj said: “This is a matter you must take up with her directly ... A university degree is no prerequisite for the appointment.”
Sikhumbuzo Kholwane, the former chairperson of Parliament’s portfolio committee on communications and now an MEC in Mpumalanga, was in charge of the committee that interviewed Tshabalala for a board position last August.
Asked if he knew Tshabalala had lied about her qualifications, Kholwane said: “No, no, no. I didn’t know. “But when I think back, the question was raised at that time about certificates to prove her qualifications.
“As I recall, she made an indication she’d lost or misplaced the original certificates of the degrees. I recall her indicating she’d requested new certificates from the institutions and had made affidavits to this effect.”
Asked if anyone had checked Tshabalala’s claims, Kholwane said: “Qualification checks take time. We did do them occasionally but it is not a legally prescribed requirement. So it wasn’t my job to do that unless a query is raised.
“We also subject them to a security check through the State Security Agency with regards to criminality and she cleared that.”
Kholwane said the committee’s focus was to find experienced businesspeople skilled at corporate governance.
“I think a big part of her appointment was her experience running a business and also sitting on the Transnet board and various other boards. I suppose when someone sits on such a major board, it lets you lower your guard and assume everything’s okay.”
Kholwane insisted he was under no pressure from the communications ministry or presidency to appoint Tshabalala.
This is the latest in a string of embarrassing revelations about the qualifications of senior managers at the SABC, whose chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng has no matric certificate. Tshabalala was one of six board members who voted last week in favour of Motsoeneng’s permanent appointment.
In February, City Press reported on a skills audit by PriceWaterhouseCoopers that found 60% of SABC executives did not meet the minimum requirements for strategic thinking at their job level, and two-thirds of more than 840 jobs sampled at the public broadcaster were held by people with qualifications that were either “not authentic”, “incomplete” or awarded by institutions that no longer exist.
Unisa initially refused the access to information request on the grounds that information on a student’s qualifications was personal and confidential.
But City Press appealed, arguing that as a public official, Tshabalala’s qualifications were in the public interest.
Although a university degree is not a requirement for a position on the SABC board, the Broadcasting Act does stipulate that board members must be suitable “by virtue of their qualifications, expertise and experience”, and “committed to ... openness and accountability on the part of those holding public office”.
Transnet referred a request for comment to the department of public enterprises, which undertook to provide comment at a later stage.
Sekoetlane Phamodi, campaign organiser for the SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition, said if it was true Tshabalala held no undergraduate degree, it would be a “devastating blow to the credibility of the SABC”.
Hannes du Buisson, the spokesperson for the Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers Union, said: “As the chairwoman of the SABC board, Tshabalala is in an absolute position of trust, having to make decisions over a multibillion-rand corporation.”
Tshabalala could be charged with fraud for intentionally misrepresenting her qualifications.
In the statement announcing Tshabalala’s appointment, the presidency added she was a former director of Zuma’s moral regeneration movement, and had occupied senior positions at Standard Bank and the Post Office.
Her CV submitted to Parliament also said she had previously worked for Portnet, and was a director of Sishen Iron Ore.
City Press approached SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago for comment on Wednesday.
He declined to comment as Tshabalala was appointed by the president, and later said he had forwarded our questions to her and she had undertaken to deal with the matter personally.
Further questions sent to her on Friday went unanswered.