Malegapuru Makgoba

Durban - The vice-chancellor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, did not lie under oath and was merely responding to a layperson’s notion of what an academic supervisor was.

This was the opinion of Jean Marais, an independent advocate appointed by the university council to investigate allegations that Makgoba perjured himself when he said – during a 2009 court case – that he had supervised the doctoral thesis of Tahir Pillay.

According to an audio transcript of the June 11 university council meeting, leaked to the Daily News, Marais told the council that while Makgoba had not been “exact or more careful” under cross-examination, this did not mean he had lied under oath – and there was no reason to suspend him.

Marais said that if one looked at the court transcripts in a critical way it could cause some “discomfort”, but it was “not enough to judge a man”.

He said it was clear to him that the lawyer cross-examining Makgoba did not appreciate the academic distinction between supervising someone writing a doctoral thesis and being the supervisor of a doctoral thesis.

“To a certain extent, he could be seeing himself as responding to a layperson’s notion of supervision. Of course, if the layperson said to him at any stage, ‘Professor, let’s just cut through it all – were you appointed as the supervisor or registered as the supervisor to these students’, I imagine the answer would’ve been ‘No’ because he was already making headway in that direction.”

Marais said that according to Pillay’s statement, Makgoba had not “directly, indirectly, formally or informally or in any form or fashion” assisted in his thesis.

“All he did is that he lent him his computer. If that is his version, why did he write at the end of his thesis, ‘I am deeply grateful to Dr MW Makgoba for his invaluable assistance. Not for a computer, I am afraid, or a typewriter’?”

Since the council meeting where it decided not to take disciplinary action against him, UKZN came out in support of Makgoba in newspaper advertisements.

But the council did not explain the advocate’s advice on which its decision was based.

It was then-UKZN staffer Kanthan Pillay who called for an investigation into Makgoba, who was alleged to have made the supervision claim while testifying in a corruption case against the former dean of management studies.

Kanthan Pillay was fired in 2008, on the grounds of a breach of trust.

The allegation against Makgoba was backed up by a letter from Professor Kenneth Siddle, from the University of Cambridge, who wrote that he had been Tahir Pillay’s sole supervisor.

Marais said he had spoken to Siddle, who told him while Makgoba had “exaggerated a bit” and had not been careful in responding to the lawyer’s questions, what he had said “was not a hanging offence”.

In arriving at his opinion, Marais also used a letter from Makgoba’s lawyer answering the allegations.

“I have come to the conclusion that it can’t be said that (Makgoba) lied under oath,” Marais said. “Therefore I cannot recommend… that disciplinary steps be taken.”

Kanthan Pillay said he found it strange that Marais had based his opinion on an assumption of what Makgoba’s answer would have been. - Daily News