Damn­ing claims against Dr Seme

Biog­ra­phy finds ANC founder’s qual­i­fi­ca­tions were fraud­u­lent

The Star Early Edition - - POLITICS - BON­GANI HANS

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.

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