PhD to who? Unisa denies conferring honorary doctorates on Malawian musician, socialite

Unisa says it has not conferred a degree on Malawian Pemphero Mphande. Picture: X / PempheroMphande

Unisa says it has not conferred a degree on Malawian Pemphero Mphande. Picture: X / PempheroMphande

Published Nov 7, 2023


It doesn't rain, but it pours in the parallel world of bogus degrees in South Africa, as yet another person has been exposed after claiming they were conferred with a degree at the University of South Africa (Unisa).

The country’s biggest university has denied conferring honorary doctorates on Malawian socialite and community activist Phemphero Mphande, Malawian musician Patience Namadingo, and one Mansoor Sharif Karim.

This week, Mphande took to his social media followers to celebrate being conferred with a doctorate in recognition of his humanitarian efforts, which he claimed "have seen us raise over 200 million (currency not disclosed) for those in need".

“This Honorary PhD belongs to all of us that do charity work together,” Mphande told his followers, with a picture of him in red robes.

— Pemphero W Mphande (@PempheroMphande) November 4, 2023

In a statement on Tuesday, Unisa said they had not conferred any degrees on the three.

“These three individuals are also not amongst the candidates considered and approved for the awarding of honorary doctorates in 2020, 2021, and 2023.

“Neither have they ever been nominated, considered, or approved for such honours at any period whatsoever. No honorary degrees were awarded in 2022,” Unisa said.

The university said those it conferred honorary doctorates upon went through a strict and controlled process, which included nominations and approvals through various bodies in the university before it went to council for approval.

Once approved, the recipient would be conferred in full view of all attendees, and the vice-chancellor or chancellor would confer the honorarium.

Acting Registrar, Professor Moloko Sepota, said the university condemned the three for misusing the university’s name in such “fraudulent conduct”.

"Relevant officials within the university have been directed to look into this matter and ensure that these individuals are held to account and also made to retract any false claims," said Sepota.

Following Unisa’s public statement, Mphande released his own statement, saying he had been contacted by individuals who he said had been awarding honorary doctorates on behalf of Unisa.

“These individuals have previously recognised others at ceremonies held at the Unisa campus and other campuses.

“I was recognised at a well-patronised ceremony alongside other individuals from Zimbabwe, Botswana, Congo, South Africa, and Nigeria... This ceremony was organised and conducted by the same individuals that have been doing this for years.

“If Unisa is denying this today, either they are a part of the scam or they too are being scammed. I personally would be happy to work with Unisa to get to the bottom of this,” he said.

He said he believed he was the victim of a scam and that he would be happy to engage with Unisa on the issue.

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