Thabi Leoka quits MTN board amid PhD storm

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 23 Jan 2024
MTN’s headquarters in Johannesburg.
MTN’s headquarters in Johannesburg.

Embattled economist Thabi Leoka has resigned from the board of directors of telecommunications group MTN after serving for more than four years.

Leoka’s resignation from MTN comes after questions were raised in the media about the authenticity of her academic qualifications.

Earlier this month, Business Day reported that Leoka was caught up in a scandal over misrepresentation of qualifications. It said the development was allegedly one of the reasons that she and Johann Rupert’s investment vehicle, Remgro, parted ways in December.

Leoka came under fire recently when her PhD in Economic History was scrutinised amid questions surrounding her alleged qualification from the London School of Economics.

Although she asserts the possession of a PhD, publicly available records indicate she received a master’s degree in 2004.

In a statement yesterday, MTN said: “MTN South Africa today accepted the resignation of independent non-executive director Thabi Leoka, effective immediately.

“Leoka joined the board of the MTN Group subsidiary in 2019. She resigned to attend to her health and the questions she has been facing concerning her academic qualifications.”

The embattled economist also served as a Netcare independent non-executive director between January 2022 and March 2023.

This week, the private healthcare group announced Leoka resigned voluntarily, effective 8 March 2023, following a potential conflict presented by her future appointment to the Remgro board, a significant shareholder in a direct competitor to Netcare.

It adds that a report by an external specialist integrity assessment firm commissioned by Netcare and received in November 2021 listed Leoka’s highest qualification as an MA and MSc.

“In hindsight, we recognise that we should have proactively enquired why the PhD qualification, as stated on her curriculum vitae, was not reflected in the report,” says Charles Vikisi, general counsel and group secretary of Netcare.

“Regrettably, this diligence was not exercised. Given the recent disclosures around the integrity of Ms Leoka’s academic qualifications, it is apparent that Netcare could have and should have done more to verify the accuracy of her CV, particularly as it pertained to her PhD.

“Valuable lessons have been learned, and our verification processes will be more robust and comprehensive going forward.”

Mining group Anglo American Platinum yesterday also announced Leoka’s departure.

The mining giant told shareholders that Leoka resigned from her position as a non-executive director, and consequently the board committees she serves on, with immediate effect.