Thabi Leoka PhD saga exposes weak governance structures on the boards she sat on - Reputation Specialist

A reputation management specialist says Thabi Leoka PhD saga has exposed some of SA’s biggest entities, including Standard Bank, MTN, Amplats, for having weak governance structures. Picture: Supplied

A reputation management specialist says Thabi Leoka PhD saga has exposed some of SA’s biggest entities, including Standard Bank, MTN, Amplats, for having weak governance structures. Picture: Supplied

Published Jan 24, 2024


Economist Thabi Leoka’s extraordinary fall from grace, after she was exposed to have lied about her London School of Economics PhD - despite holding two masters degrees - has exposed the weak governance structures at some of South Africa’s leading companies.

This is according to a reputational specialist Regina le Roux of Reputation Matters, a reputation management firm founded in 2005, which has worked with the likes of Experian, Curro, Bell, Shoprite and Sentech, to name a few.

“This whole situation could have been prevented, and misconceptions cleared up years ago, had all the entities involved done their due diligence.

“The question surrounding the authenticity of her PhD should have been picked up and addressed years ago. The matter would have been cleared up very quickly, without tarnishing anyone’s reputation,” said Le Roux.

One healthcare firm, Netcare, admitted it knew as far back as November 2021, that Leoka had two masters degrees as her highest qualification.

Netcare appointed Leoka onto its board for the period of January 2022 and March 2023.

Netcare said it overlooked the discrepancy after other referees gave glowing recommendations about Leoka being a consummate professional and her integrity apparently being above reproach.

Other industry leaders, like Standard Bank chief executive Sim Tshabalala, would not publicly disclose in a radio interview with 702 if they had vetted Leoka. Tshabalala cited the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) when asked if they had vetted Leoka.

Leoka served as the head of economic research at the bank.

Leoka also served on President Cyril Ramaphosa's special economic advisory panel, who also did not verify her qualifications - saying they were not required to.

Ramaphosa's spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya said the Presidential Advisory Council was a non-statutory body, “therefore, formal vetting is not a requirement”.

He said those serving on the panel did so for free and asked Leoka to clarify her qualifications. She was removed from the advisory panel on Monday, Magwenya told select media.

This week, MTN and Anglo American Platinum announced that Leoka had resigned from their boards.

Per multiple reports, the London School of Economics is on the record saying: "We have checked our files and can find no record of 'Thabi Leoka', or 'Bathabile Leoka' being awarded a PhD from LSE."

Leoka is currently in the US receiving medical attention for an eye condition.

Le Roux said it was an “incredibly sad and unfortunate situation”, but not just for Leoka, but all the boards she sat on had questions to answer.

“Firstly, why has it taken the numerous boards so many years to only start questioning her qualifications now?

“Secondly, surely submitting a certified copy of your qualifications is a stock standard requirement for any position, especially for a board member for a listed company?

“This does put a massive question mark on all these major entities’ governance structures, and ultimately, their reputation.

“This leads to another question; what other due diligence processes are not being followed? All the entities that appointed Leoka, without the necessary qualification vetting or reference checks, need to be hauled over the coals,” said Le Roux.

Commenting on the Presidency’s stance of not vetting Leoka as she was volunteering her time without pay, Le Roux said the position by the executive on the matter was “problematic”. “Anybody being appointed into any role of an organisation, is representing that entity. You need to know who will be representing you.

“You need to make sure that you have the right team on board, one who has your entity’s best interest at heart. Your team impacts your organisation’s reputation, which ultimately impacts whether people want to do business with you or not. If it’s easy enough to lie about qualifications, what else is being lied about?”

Le Roux said values, truth, authenticity and transparency were the cornerstone and the solid foundations upon which people wanted to do business with.

“If things start off with a lie, you are diminishing the respect for the other party. It’s not impossible to rectify, but will take time to build a solid connection.

“Aside from tarnishing one’s own reputation and that of the organisation you are affiliated with, it also makes a mockery of those who have actually put in the hard work to ethically obtain their qualifications and positions at work,” said Le Roux.

She has urged all businesses and organisations to vet their potential employees and conduct the necessary due diligence.

Make sure your governance structures are in place and up-to-date and that everyone in the organisation follows the same approach. Keeping everyone accountable to comply with these processes, procedures and policies is crucial.

Ask for certified copies of qualifications and take the time to follow up on references.

Ensure that each individual on your team resonates with the company’s values.

She said the only silver lining was that entities who did not vet adequately, had now been exposed.

“This now hopefully encourages all entities to review and implement stricter governance processes across all spheres of their organisations to build ethical entities that people want to do business with,” she said.

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