THREE months after the fake PhD of SA’s ambassador to Japan, Mohau Pheko, was exposed, some of her other qualifications are raising red flags.
In February, the Financial Mail reported that Pheko claimed to have received a doctorate from the controversial LaSalle university in the US, described as a "diploma mill". The Louisiana institution was shut down in the wake of an FBI raid, long before she claimed to have graduated. (It is not to be confused with La Salle University in Pennsylvania.)
Now further doubt has arisen about Pheko’s CV. She claims to have two undergraduate qualifications and two master’s degrees, also from US universities.
But rather than respond to questions put to her about the matter last week, the 56-year-old ambassador issued stern instructions to the Financial Mail not to probe further, saying: "I’m warning you."
Earlier this month, an anonymous e-mail was sent to the magazine about an investigation that had been carried out into Pheko’s CV. According to the sender, "it reveals she falsified more than her PhD".
A six-page report from a well-known Johannesburg-based private investigations firm was attached, but the identity of the person who sent the e-mail was disguised.
The firm in question has confirmed that the probe was commissioned and paid for by a locally based South African and that its contents are, to the best of their knowledge and based on interviews with the institutions in question, correct.
Pheko’s CV, which prior to the February exposé was widely available on the Internet and other platforms but has now been removed, claimed she was the holder of five tertiary qualifications from institutions in the states of Louisiana, Indiana and New York, including the fake doctorate from LaSalle.
According to the report, the BSc in economics and general studies from the Indiana University-Purdue University she claimed to have obtained in 1984 has now been reduced to a general studies degree.
The probe into her master’s degree in public health from New York Medical College, which she says she was awarded in 1990, shows she did enrol for the course, but never completed it. According to an administrator at the institution, she "did not receive a degree. It doesn’t give a reason why she didn’t receive the degree, but just that she stopped attending ... in the spring of 1994."
No record could be found of Pheko at the New York University School of Continuing & Professional Studies, where she states she received a master’s in development economics in 1994 (the same year she stopped attending the New York Medical College). The university notes that she may have enrolled under a maiden, married or other name.
Her nursing degree, from the State University of New York, could not be verified without her written consent.
Pheko, a staunch member of the PAC, has refused to produce copies of her qualifications or provide any meaningful answers to questions put to her.
Her most recent word on the matter, via e-mail last Friday, was a quote from former president Thabo Mbeki: "We should never become despondent because the weather is bad, nor should we turn triumphalist because the sun shines."
A fortnight ago she sang a different tune when she wrote to the Financial Mail saying: "As painful as this period in my life is, I sincerely want to thank you. I hope to one day do so in person. Failure is an amazing and transformative process. Thank you for being a catalyst."
Pheko’s audacity is legendary. In 2008 she lost her regular column in the Sunday Times due to plagiarism. When the story of her fake PhD broke in February, she gave radio interviews insisting the university was at all times bona fide, registered and recognised, when it wasn’t.
She is not the first to be found to have a creative CV, however, and the spate of individuals in public or semipublic office who have been seen to be leaning on trumped-up qualifications has forced government to take a stronger stance on the matter. A court in KwaZulu-Natal recently sentenced one such fraudster to five years behind bars for academic misrepresentation.
The department of international relations & co-operation declined to comment. However, the Financial Mail has learnt that Pheko will not be offered another posting within the diplomatic corps when her current posting ends in December.