SA’s US ambassador in new ‘dodgy degree’ drama

2015-03-01 15:00

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South Africa’s new ambassador to Washington, DC, Mninwa Mahlangu, has set tongues wagging in the US after it emerged that he may have received his distance-learning degree from an unaccredited institution.

Mahlangu has, however, insisted his qualification is solid.

In his official short bio, submitted for the ambassadorial position – Mahlangu’s first – he counts a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Fairfax in 1995 as among his qualifications.

The Louisiana-based Fairfax University was established in 1986 and discontinued in 2004 when, according to Wikipedia, it relocated to the Cayman Islands.

It also appears on a number of websites listing “degree mills” – places where degrees are fraudulently granted.

There is, however, a University of Fairfax in Virginia that is legitimate.

Educational institutions are accredited by bodies comprised of peers.

The website, which reports critically on the US government and its agencies, reported in its story on Mahlangu’s appointment last Sunday that the University of Fairfax was “actually an unaccredited diploma mill”.

Two of the university’s alumni, general secretary of the World Council of Churches Samuel Kobia and former Swedish minister for employment Sven Otto Littorin, had their degrees removed from their CVs after controversies about Fairfax.

Embassy spokesperson Ndumiso Mngadi told City Press: “The ambassador was admitted to the programme in August 1991 and was awarded the qualification in May 1995.

“The ambassador was not aware of accreditation issues at the time of undertaking the programme.”

Spokesperson for the department of international relations Clayson Monyela referred queries to Mahlangu.

The spokesperson for the US embassy in Pretoria, Jack Hillmeyer, said the “normal diplomatic process” was followed for Mahlangu’s appointment.

It is understood this includes vetting, which would involve a check on the diplomat’s submitted biography.

Academic qualifications are, however, not a requirement for ambassadors.

This week there were also revelations that South Africa’s ambassador to Japan, Mohau Pheko, claimed to have obtained a degree from an unaccredited institution, LaSalle University, after it had shut down.

On her CV, Pheko said she received her PhD in 2000 but the university, which had been selling degrees on the internet, had closed in 1996.

Pheko, who still calls herself doctor, told the Financial Mail the university was promoted as legitimate when she registered, but closed before she got her doctorate, although she claimed to have done the course work.

Her qualification fraud was discovered five years ago when she was posted to Canada, but she was apparently forgiven by the South African government and then posted to Japan, a G8 country that has growing trade links in Africa.

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