Can legal action be taken against economist Thabi Leoka for “lying” about her doctorate?

Thabi Leoka speaking at a Mercedes Benz event in August 2023 where she delivered the keynote address, focusing on a macroeconomic overview of South Africa, and provided a comprehensive understanding of the latest market trends relevant for the automotive industry. Picture: Supplied

Thabi Leoka speaking at a Mercedes Benz event in August 2023 where she delivered the keynote address, focusing on a macroeconomic overview of South Africa, and provided a comprehensive understanding of the latest market trends relevant for the automotive industry. Picture: Supplied

Published Jan 18, 2024


Economist Thabi Leoka has been accused of lying about obtaining a doctorate from the London School of Economics (LSE) this week.

Leoka has denied she falsified her doctoral qualifications.

In light of these accusations, it is important for businesses to know what their legal recourse is if they have found out an employee has lied about their qualifications.

According to the Consolidated Employers (CEO), there are specific job requirements that demand that a possible candidate have a particular degree or qualification.

So if you are an employer and have found out that an employee has lied about a qualification there is legal recourse.

In 2019 National Qualifications Framework Amendment Act was signed into law by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

"This means prospective students or job seekers could face up to five years in jail for misrepresenting their qualifications," Tammy Koekemoer, a dispute resolution official for CEO said.

It should also be noted that under the new law, if you lie about your qualifications on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter platforms you could also see jail time.

Koekemoer also uses the Umgeni Water v Naidoo lawsuit that occurred in 2022 as a great example of what an employer can do about this issue.

“Umgeni Water appointed Sheldon Naidoo in a graduate programme in 2008, they accepted his qualifications without demur and did not validate them. However, in 2016, things were done differently, and qualifications had to be verified,” she explained.

“That year, Naidoo applied for an internal vacancy as a Process Technician, and his chemical engineering qualification he used to get into the graduate programme had to be verified. It was then discovered that he had forged his qualification. He resigned in November 2016 after being asked about his qualifications’ legitimacy.”

The water department then took Naidoo to court for R2,203,565.04, the money he earned while he worked at the company.

Umgeni Water won the case against Naidoo and he was ordered to pay the company back the entire R2.2 million. He was also ordered to pay the legal fees of Umgeni Water as well.

It should be noted that this case is a specific one as is most cases. That is why one has to go to court as all cases are nuanced.


Leoka has indicated that she will be taking legal action against “Business Day” for publishing the claims that she was forced from the Remgro Group for failing to have a doctorate. She noted that she left Remgro for health-related reasons.

To date no company has said that they will be pursuing legal action against Leoka but according to legal experts this case is not so black and white.

Sandile July, a director at Werksmans Attorneys told IOL News that the company would have to prove that the work done by Leoka was substandard based on the fact that she did not have a doctorate. This is taking into consideration that Leoka cannot prove she has a doctorate from LSE and did in fact lie.

When asked about remuneration and if Leoka, like Naidoo, would have to repay her salary for the work she has done, July said:

“The person would have rendered the services to a company, either as an employee or a board member, for which she will be entitled to salary/fees. The fact that the person misrepresented her qualification does not mean she is not entitled to salary/fees for the services that she has rendered”.

“The only financial recourse available to the company is when either the services were not rendered or were substandard. However, proving that services were substandard is likely to be a tedious exercise,” July added.

July concluded that, “the company is entitled to terminate the employment relationship or board appointment on the basis of dishonesty/misrepresentation”.


Nicolene Schoeman-Louw, the managing director at SchoemanLawInc told IOL NEWS that, “a well drafted employment contract usually contains warranties on the authenticity of the application and qualification. In addition it is usually a condition to forging a binding agreement. Thus if anything turns out to be fake it enables the employer to take the position that the agreement was void due to misrepresentation and fraud.”

“The employer can start criminal proceedings and potentially claim damages including recouping the salary. However the latter would be dependent on the circumstances involved,” Schoeman-Louw concluded.

Kholofelo Mashitisho, the managing director at Mashitisho Attorneys told IOL News that “misrepresentation is a legal offence where a candidate falsely claims to have a qualification, aiming to persuade the recipient to appoint them under a false pretext”.

“The new National Qualifications Framework Amendment Act 2019, amplifies the implication that presenting a fraudulent qualification or claiming a qualification you do not have is a criminal offence. In the current case should a company be able to prove that they hired based on a fraudulent qualification, they are able to open a case of fraud against the individual whereby the courts will look at various factors, including the amounts he or she was paid, while employed in this capacity as that particular employee when considering sentencing,” Mashitisho concluded.

This is a developing story...

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