Vavi feels cheated over fake honorary doctorate

Trinity College says it's internationally accredited

Zwelinzima Vavi.
Zwelinzima Vavi.
Image: Supplied

Unionist Zwelinzima Vavi says he feels cheated after he learnt that the honorary doctorate he cherished for six years was conferred by an unregistered institution. 

The Trinity International Bible University, which has been found to be bogus, honoured Vavi at a function held in the Eastern Cape in 2018 where he and King Zwelonke Sigcawu of the AmaXhosa kingdom, King Dalimvula Matanzima of the Western Tembus and King Peter Cardi of the Khoisan in Cape Town were handed certificates.  

The Bible college has come under sharp scrutiny after the department of higher education and training has said it was not registered. This came after the circulation of photos of actor Sello Maake Ka Ncube attending the university's event where he and Skeem Saam actress Sikasu Serunye, among others, were receiving their honorary doctorates. Serunye posted her photos on social media with a caption: "Graduation day. Honor me as Dr Sikasu Serunye." 

Other personalities to have received doctorates from Trinity include singer Winnie Mashaba.  

Gospel singer Winnie Mashaba.
Gospel singer Winnie Mashaba.
Image: Facebook

Yesterday, Vavi told Sowetan of his shock when he found out that his doctorate was not legally recognised.  

"All these years I thought I was a doctor of something and I was proud that my contribution to fight the plight of workers had been recognised by an academic institution. Even though not many people referred to me as doctor, but knowing that I had been honoured gave me a sense of accomplishment ... but all of that fell flat in the weekend when minister [Blade] Nzimande said the university was not registered.  

"My contribution in the fight for workers is real, it is unfortunate that the doctorate I was given is not real. It's not even worth the paper it's written on. This was my only honorary doctorate and it has turned out to be a useless piece of paper. I was duped," said Vavi. 

He said he did not know the university until a bishop known to him invited him to accept the university's invite.  

"He had been pursing me for months until I agreed and they flew me to PE [Gqeberha] to accept it," he said.  

Speaking on Newzroom Afrika yesterday, Nzimande said Trinity awards honorary doctorates to unsuspecting celebrities as a strategy for it to gain credibility status with the public.Nzimande's department said Trinity was not authorised to offer any qualifications, including honorary degrees.

“The reason the college is offering honorary doctorates to celebrities is because they want to sway the public, for people to think they are credible. The fact that the college is bogus will not change,” Nzimande said. 

A former employee at Trinity said she knew something was off about the institution in 2022 when she found out that it was selling degrees.  

“The actual university is owned by Akwei Anang from Ghana while there is a branch in Mossel Bay run by another man.  When I joined the institution, I was at the branch in Port Elizabeth [Gqeberha] for three years. Our certificates and everything else were printed by my colleague in Mossel Bay,” said the employee. 

She left the institution after learning that it was not registered.

Actress Elizabeth Serunye.
Actress Elizabeth Serunye.
Image: Facebook

Trinity board member Modjadji Letsoalo said the institution was credited by international bodies.

“Those who were at the graduation, I believe, they know that we are not accredited with South Africa but accredited internationally. If you see the doctorates of those honoured, it says they are honoured with Causa [Cuban American Undergraduate Student Association at Harvard College] for their contribution in society. It is nothing else and it is not a qualification that someone can use to get a job with,” said Letsoalo. 

Letsoalo said she was concerned that Trinity was being singled out.

“There are lot of internationally accredited institutions in the country that are not accredited locally and are honouring people but they have not been outed. But why when Trinity honours these celebrities it’s a problem?”

Anang said Trinity does not give honorary doctorates and that he will find out what transpired. He, however, conceded that they were not registered with SAQA (SA Qualifications Authority) or the state. 

“The teachings that we provide at the institution are purely studies that are recognised by churches all over the world. We prepare pastors and scholars who will take what they are taught and go and pratise those teaching in the churches. These are not qualifications that can be used outside of the church,” said Anang. 

Anang said he has warned students about trying to use their qualifications outside of Christian-based sectors. 

“I have told my Ghanian students as well as others that it will not work if you go and try to get a job at an institute that is not a church, especially a state one. I have told them that if they want to do that then they would need to go to state-recognised institutions,” said Anang. 

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