Former KwaZulu-Natal health spokesperson Leon Abednigo Mbangwa felt vindicated after he was acquitted of fraud in the Durban Specialised Commercial Court on Thursday.
Mbangwa, 55, who is considering litigation against both the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the police, was investigated by the Hawks’ Serious Commercial Crime Investigation Unit concerning his academic credentials.
He was accused of misrepresenting his qualifications by claiming to hold a master’s degree in public management and development when he applied for a job at the department in 2006. Mbangwa produced a statement of academic record which highlights the modules completed, it was issued by Wits University in 2009. But other modules are reflected as not completed. He believes that the lack of submitting a master’s degree was used as an excuse to purge him when former KZN Health MEC Peggy Nkonyeni was replaced by Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo.
He said the qualification was not even a prerequisite, but it was used to get him out. Mbangwa said he submitted transcripts of his academic record to say he had completed the course work. He said the matter was still in dispute with the university to release his degree.
A specialist criminal litigator from Botha and Associate, Jacques Botha, argued that the investigation was so pathetic and poor they used the issue of not producing a master’s degree certificate as a red herring to bar him from his duties.
“He told them to prove their case against him, but they failed. He challenged them to bring evidence of falsehood, they also failed in this regard, which led to section 174 (insufficient evidence) being applied because the evidence was so poor.
“The alternative theft of the money charge was a huge joke because he performed his duties with distinction. His superiors did not complain about the level of incompetence in his work,” said Botha.
He said Mbangwa could not furnish his master’s degree after his examiner died before issuing out his full results to the university but it was irrelevant because the master’s qualification was not a requirement.
Mbangwa, who was acquitted on Thursday, said he felt vindicated after he had suffered for 18 months without a salary. He said he also had an MBA from Oxford University but still could not be employed to put his acquired skills to use.
“Nobody would employ me because I was regarded as a fraudster. The pain was too much to bear. I had given my all working for the state in different portfolios. I sat at home hoping that one day the truth will prevail. I had my car repossessed, people started gossiping about me being a bad example in the public service. This did not only injure my persona but my family as well,” he said.
He blamed the Hawks for being used as a political tool after he was perceived as a supporter of former president Jacob Zuma.
He said his troubles escalated after he was appointed a chief of staff in the police ministry ran by Nkosinathi Nhleko in 2016.
Acting director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in KZN, Elaine Zungu, said Mbangwa was acquitted because former head of department Dr Sibongile Zungu conceded under cross-examination that although Mbangwa still did not have a master’s degree, the lack of it had no bearing on the appointment.
“It has been noted that the State did have a prima facie case when it took the matter to court,” Zungu said.
Mbangwa also served as a spokesperson to the former speaker of the provincial legislature, Peggy Nkonyeni, in 2006.
In 2002, Mbangwa was found guilty of fraud and jailed for four years. His conviction was related to an issue regarding his place of birth and his South African citizenship.
Mbangwa said at that time that according to his identity document, he had been born in South Africa when he had in fact been born in Zimbabwe.
Mbangwa admitted to having spent time in a Pretoria prison for fraud. He was released on August 2003.
In 2011, Mbangwa had been asked to leave the KZN Health Department for failing to produce his qualifications.
Nkonyeni had described Mbangwa as “one of the best communicators” who had distinguished himself as an “organised civil servant”.
Captain Simphiwe Mhlongo, a spokesperson for the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation in KwaZulu-Natal, said the Hawks want to place it on record that according to the investigation conducted no master’s degree was presented before the court and the said qualification was also not submitted to the department of health when he was required to do so.
“However, the defence applied for the discharge in terms of Section 174 of Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977 and it was granted without him presenting the said qualifications he claimed to possess.
“The higher learning institution he was enrolling at still maintains that Mbangwa did not accomplish the said qualification,” Mhlongo said.