By Thato Mahlangu

It is unclear if a former employee of the troubled state-owned Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), who was ordered to back millions by a high court last year after forging his university qualifications, has done so.

Daniel Mthimkhulu, who was paid over R15-million in salaries between April 2010 and July 2015 before being appointed Prasa’s executive manager (EM), tried to have the high court’s decision reversed. Mthimkhulu lost his bid for leave to appeal the judgment.

The court had found in November 2019 that Mthimkhulu, who resigned in 2015, should pay back over R5-million – the total amount he received as a result of the salary increases which became effective when he was appointed EM.

He had applied for a general manager position at the rail agency, claiming he had a national diploma and a bachelor’s degree from the Vaal University of Technology. Later it was discovered that his highest qualification was a matric certificate.

The court also found that Mthimkhulu secured the position without submitting an application or attending a job interview.

But the former EM, when interviewed by senior journalist Xoli Mngambi on eNCA, was adamant that he possessed a matric certificate and a diploma from the Vaal University of Technology.

Mthimkhulu said he didn’t even have a PhD that he, according to Prasa’s former board chairperson Khanyisile Kweyama, had falsely claimed to have completed.

“I would like to take this opportunity to admit that I do not have a Ph.D. and I failed to correct the perception that I have it,” Mthimkhulu said, adding that he just became comfortable with the title.

“I did not foresee any suffering or damages as a result of this because I got to be known at the time after I was appointed in the position of the executive manager in 2010.”

Pay back the money

The agency, which is responsible for most passenger rail services carrying millions of daily commuters, argued in court that it suffered, at the very least, damages in the amount of R5 771 854.39.

“This amount reflects the total of the additional payments made by Prasa to Mr Mthimkhulu as a result of having been induced to pay him a substantial increase in his salary as a consequence of the fraudulent misrepresentations made by him,” according to a statement issued by the high court.

The high court said it was established that the agency had suffered financially as a result of Mthimkhulu using fake university qualifications to get the job.

Kweyama said the agency welcomed the judgment.

“Prasa welcomed the verdict by the Gauteng High Court to award restitution of the monies paid to Mr Mthimkhulu as a result of a series of systematic lies and machinations on the part of Mthimkhulu.”

Mthimkhulu’s web of “lies”

In a statement, Prasa’s spokesperson Nana Zenani said the judgment was handed down after a lengthy court battle between the agency and Mthimkhulu “over a series of blatant lies. Firstly, [he lied] about his qualifications and a fake offer of employment and a salary of 200 000 Euros from a German company.”

Zenani said Mthimkhulu had not just lied about his qualifications to get the job, but was involved in a tender contract that he would have benefited from.

“This comes on the heels of the infamous Swifambo [Rail Leasing] contract which Mr Mthimkhulu played a central role in. The High Court and Supreme Court of Appeal found that this contract was impugned by tender rigging enabled by Mr Mthimkhulu. These judgments cleared the way for Prasa to recover more than R2.6-billion of taxpayer monies already paid on the contract,” explained Zenani.

Swifambo was Prasa’s supplier of the controversial Afro 4000 locomotives – the trains that were too tall for South Africa’s railways – 13 of which were already delivered. The unsuitable locomotives went under the hammer towards the end of 2019.

Recovering of funds

Zenani said the agency will now embark on a series of recovery measures against Mthimkhulu and Swifambo respectively.

“As a state owned entity, achieving victory in such cases is only the first step. We will now intensify our efforts through the law to recover tax payer monies paid to such professional criminals intent on defrauding the people of South Africa,” added Kweyama.

But the Daily Maverick claims that Swifambo went into liquidation shortly after the appeal court’s ruling. 

Investigations into Prasa corruption

Zenani said the board has been consistently following up on a series of investigations and key recommendations against corruption within Prasa that have been unresolved for 10 years.

“The board’s efforts to stabilise Prasa has been an arduous task. It has resulted in the uncovering of various illegal activities that otherwise destabilised the organisation, choking all efforts to carry out its mandate to deliver passenger rail services. The Swifambo contract, for instance, has had a negative effect on our long distance Shosholoza Meyl as it left the business without the much needed locomotives,” said Kweyama.

Kweyama said the board will continue to implement the recommendations of former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s 2015 report, titled Derailed, as well as other investigation findings into Prasa corruption.

“It is important that Prasa remains functional and delivers quality service while the Board finalises its investigations. Prasa staff and commuters deserve an organisation that is free of corruption and is vigilant against any individuals or companies that intend on undertaking corrupt activities.”

The complaint was initially lodged with the Office of the Public Protector by the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union in 2012 and later pursued by the National Transport Movement, according to the Derailed report.

“It alleged maladministration and related improper conduct involving procurement irregularities, conflict of interest, nepotism and human resources mismanagement, including victimization of whistle-blowers, by the Group Chief Executive Officer (Mr Lucky Montana) and other functionaries at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa.”

Right of reply

We tried to contact Mthimkhulu for comment using various channels and sources but were unsuccessful.