Claims of racism at Wits over ‘falsified marks’

Students are seen in front of the Great Hall at the University of the Witwatersrand on February 07, 2019. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Sandile Ndlovu)
Students are seen in front of the Great Hall at the University of the Witwatersrand on February 07, 2019. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Sandile Ndlovu)

Claims of racism at Wits University’s medical school have resurfaced amid a probe into allegations that black medical students falsified their portfolio marks.

The management’s decision to exonerate a white student, whose name is known to City Press, has sparked claims that the university’s medical school was targeting black students.

City Press understands that six black students, who were expected to graduate last year, could not do so after their final results were withheld pending the outcome of the investigation.

The six were studying towards a three-year Bachelor of Clinical Medical Practice degree.

This is not the first time students in this programme have been involved in similar allegations.

In 2015, 24 students faced a similar investigation after they were accused of misrepresenting their marks.

Wits University did not respond to questions last week about the outcome of that investigation.

Last year, the six allegedly awarded themselves marks throughout the year for performing certain tasks at Gauteng hospitals.

They were charged with misconduct, which could result in them being expelled, if found guilty.

The alleged misconduct was only picked up late last year, ahead of their graduations, a situation which the lawyer of Jimmy Shembe*, one of the affected students, raised as a concern.

City Press understands that Shembe’s lawyer wrote to the university saying that it should shoulder the blame for what allegedly happened.

The lawyer demanded that the charges against Shembe be dropped and the university apologise.

Shembe’s lawyer alleges that:

  • Wits University failed to allocate a supervisor to monitor the students when they performed their tasks to ensure that they did not falsify their assignment marks. This allegedly led to the trainee doctors at hospitals doing this and approving their portfolio marks in their e-log books;
  • It also failed to address the issue during the year and come up with remedial action but instead it “imposed punitive actions which are extremely unfair, unjust, unreasonable and preposterously incorrect and prejudicial”; and
  • That a staffer indicated during a pre-disciplinary hearing meeting late last year that, in exchange for students pleading guilty, normally they undergo an online ethics course and have their expulsion suspended, a condition which Shembe saw as blackmail for the students to admit to wrongdoing.

City Press also understands that the matter was reported to the SA Human Rights Commission.

Wits University spokesperson Buhle Zuma denied all the allegations made against the university, saying the institution reserved its right to respond to these claims at an appropriate time.

“All matters which are referred to the university’s legal office are investigated in accordance with the university’s rules, policies and procedures. Where evidence shows that there is a prima facie case for a student to answer, that student is charged. The inverse applies of course.”

She said there was no evidence to charge the white student.

“To charge a student when there is no evidence would be unconscionable. The university strongly rejects the allegation that in implementing its rules and processes it discriminates on the grounds of race and/or political affiliation.

“It is highly inappropriate for individuals to make racialised allegations without evidence. This feeds polarisation and a racialised agenda which appears to be aimed at avoiding accountability. This culture must not be allowed by the media because it destroys institutions.”

Zuma said the university was willing to share the “overwhelming evidence” against Shembe, provided City Press had his permission.

The SA Human Rights Commission had not yet approached the university.

*Not his real name

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