‘Plagiarised promotion’

2016-02-15 11:49
A seasoned academic has claimed that his work was copied.

A seasoned academic has claimed that his work was copied. (File)

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Pietermaritzburg - A seasoned academic has said that a high-ranking KwaZulu-Natal Department of Correctional Services official “plagiarised” his work to obtain a master’s degree from the University of Zululand.

Dr Sifiso Mbatha, who now works for the Development Bank of South Africa, told The Witness that Jabulani Zikhali, acting director for the Durban area for the Department of Correctional Services, had an “over-reliance” on his documents when he wrote his master’s dissertation.

The documents — both of which are in the possession of The Witness — have striking similarities.

In November 2002 Mbatha published his thesis, through the University of South Africa, titled The Ethical Dimensions of Transparency in the Public Sector.

In October 2005 Zikhali published his thesis under the title “The Ethics of Transparency in the Public Sector” at the University of Zululand.

Mbatha was initially Zikhali’s supervisor on research methodology, but in March 2005 Mbatha left to pursue a doctorate, with his vacancy being filled by Shikha Vyas-Doorgapersad, then a novice in the academic environment, who was only employed on a term-by-term basis.

Zikhali was awarded his dissertation cum laude.

A thorough check by The Witness and an academic who agreed to view both dissertations, revealed the documents were the same chapter for chapter, including the bibliography, with only minor rewrites in the summary or opening paragraphs of new chapters.

The only real difference is in the acknowledgments.

Zikhali even thanked Mbatha for his “encouragement, contributions and constructive criticism throughout this research”.

Mbatha said that, until contacted by The Witness, he at “no point” read Zikhali’s draft dissertation.

“I provided the guidance on how to research. I never saw his work,” said Mbatha.

When The Witness presented him with both his 2002 document and Zikhali’s 2005 document, he agreed they were near identical.

“I can confirm [that the dissertation sent to me by The Witness] is my work. I know Zikhali very well so I will need to talk to him about this.

“I will also need to reach out to the registrar of the University of Zululand to report this matter,” said Mbatha.

Mbatha’s dissertation is currently housed at Unisa’s Muckleneuk campus in only a hard copy format, while Zikhali’s is freely available for download at the University of Zululand online repository.

Asked by the journalist if he considered that Zikhali had plagiarised and stolen his work he said “Absolutely”.

Zikhali’s supervisor Vyas-Doorgapersad, now based at the University of Johannesburg, said she was “absolutely shocked” when presented with the two dissertations by The Witness.

“Zikhali would have signed a document stating the work was entirely his.

“Prior to 2010 when new anti-plagiarism policies were enforced countrywide, this acknowledgement that the work was the student’s own was taken in good faith,” said Vyas-Doorgapersad.

When contacted, Zikhali said: “I did not do that. You must talk to the University [of Zululand]. That is all I am saying,” before hanging up.

A follow-up SMS was sent to ask for further clarification, but there was no response at the time of going to press.

Zikhali studied at the Zululand university while serving with Correctional Services in Empangeni.

His master’s degree, according to Correctional Services insiders, would have been pivotal to his rise through the ranks seeing him move to a senior role at the Durban-Westville Correctional Facility and then becoming an area commissioner for Ncome (Vryheid).

Zikhali is now the acting shift director for Durban. His new acting post is the result of a reshuffle since the January suspension of the KwaZulu-Natal regional commissioner Mnikelwa Nxele.

Mbatha’s 2002 master’s dissertation supervisor, Professor Christelle Auriacombe, now at the University of Johannesburg, said she personally regarded it as theft.

“If I find similarities of a minimum of 10% from one source in a study the person’s work is already getting dodgy. It must at least be quoted,” said Auriacombe.

Professor Neil Garrod, Unizulu deputy vice-chancellor for institutional support, told the Daily News last week that they take “plagiarism very seriously” and would seek punitive action against Zikhali if necessary.

• jonathan.erasmus@witness.co.za

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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