Damning claims against Dr Seme
Biography finds ANC founder’s qualifications were fraudulent
THE family of Pixley ka Isaka Seme is dismayed at the publishing of a book whose author said the ANC founder was a fraudster who claimed to hold a doctorate academic title despite having failed to qualify for it.
The news that Seme was not a real doctor and had failed his bachelor of law degree at Oxford University came as a shock during the launch of The Man Who Founded the ANC: A Biography of Pixley Ka Isaka Seme, authored by President Jacob Zuma’s spokesperson, Dr Bongani Ngqulunga.
Seme’s grandson Vezindaba Seme, who is the chairperson of the Dr Pixley ka Isaka Seme Foundation Trust, said the family was also dismayed by a newspaper review of the book by University of KwaZuluNatal political science lecturer Reverend Scott Couper, which described Seme as being fake and authoritarian.
Ngqulunga had travelled to the US and Britain conducting research on Seme’s academic performance, only to find that he did not have the doctorate qualification he claimed.
“At various points, Seme himself made false claims to having a Master’s degree as well as a doctorate degree in law,” read a paragraph from the book.
The book also revealed that Seme, who was known as a land rights activist, had on several occasions overcharged and also swindled money from vulnerable people who approached him for legal representation on land eviction issues. This resulted in him being struck off the roll of attorneys.
He was described as an authoritarian, undemocratic and arrogant leader who died as a “discredited public figure with a record of scandals and controversy”.
“It is no wonder that by the time Seme died in 1951, he was an isolated political figure who was spoken about in the past tense, if at all,” read the book.
Vezindaba said the family felt uneasy on reading damaging allegations against his grandfather. He said Ngqulunga’s findings stood to be challenged. He had read the book several times, not believing what was written, and said “Ngqulunga, what are you doing to us?”
Vezindaba questioned if Ngqulunga’s intention was not to bury his heroic grandfather’s reputation.
He said it would have been better if the author had approached the family to discuss the research findings before going to publishers.
“The Seme family and Dr Pixley ka Isaka Seme Foundation Trust will challenge some of the facts, especially the one about the fraudulent PhD. We want to go to Oxford University to verify this,” he said.
Vezindaba said he disputed Ngqulunga’s findings because when he communicated with Oxford University’s Jesus College, to have bright South African children admitted to study at the institution, it expressed its admiration for Seme.
“They said this alumnus is held in great esteem at Jesus College, they were proud of him. Now when we hear something like this, we are dismayed,” said Vezindaba.
Ngqulunga, when asked about the family’s concerns, said he would contribute to the their travel costs.
“I am pretty sure that you will find the facts as they are in the book,” Ngqulunga said.
He said he had initially intended to write Seme’s biography out of his admiration for the man who founded Africa’s oldest liberation movement. However, during his research, he came across the questionable doctorate title, which led to him digging more for facts.
“It is said he had a BA degree from Columbia University. I said I would like to see the transcript. I can tell you which courses he took and the grades that he got.
“Then I also went to Oxford, since it was said that he had a law degree from Oxford, and I can assure you that the evidence is incontrovertible,” said Ngqulunga.
“He could have gone away without having a doctorate, and I don’t think that it could have made any difference to his life,” he said.
Several public institutions have been named after Seme, with the title “Dr” included. They include Dr Pixley Ka Isaka Seme Local Municipality in Mpumalanga. The ANC KwaZulu-Natal offices are named after him, as is a main street in the Durban city centre (formerly West Street).
Couper said the title “Dr” should be removed from all facilities named after Seme.
“If it is left there, it will perpetuate a history that is inaccurate. One would wonder if something that is so public should be misinforming,” said Couper.
DISMAY: Pixley ka Isaka Seme, after allegedly completing his law studies at Oxford University in the UK. Below left is the cover of a biography of Seme by Dr Bongani Ngqulunga.