A warning to employers in South Africa

 ·1 Apr 2024

South Africa has seen a rise in scandals surrounding the appointment of individuals with fake qualifications.

From “TikTok doctors” giving medical advice to economists and city councillors to top appointments in government, fake qualifications have impacted almost every sector in the country.

“The ease with which these unscrupulous fraudsters get through the appointment process is worrying,” said employment law experts at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, Jose Jorge, Alex van Greuning and Caitlin Freddy.

“The harsh reality is that most [employers] do not conduct a proper due diligence of candidates when appointing employees [as they] simply take a candidate’s purported qualifications at face value and do not use any sort of verification process,” they added.

“The adverse consequences of these types of appointments can be severe, not only to an employer but also the public.”

For example, “the SABC was hollowed out over several years, during a certain CEO’s tenure [while] PRASA misspent hundreds of millions of rand buying trains that were too high for the local rail network.

These institutions had in common the appointment of individuals who falsely claimed to have qualifications that they did not,” they said.

Currently, the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) Act requires employers to verify that a candidate’s qualifications are listed on the national learners’ records database before hiring.

If qualifications are not listed, employers are required to consult the South African Qualifications Agency (SAQA) for verification. SAQA is tasked with reporting any fraudulent or misrepresented qualifications to the appropriate professional body.

It is an offence (contravention of the NQF Act) to knowingly provide false or misleading information, which carries a penalty of a fine and imprisonment not exceeding five years.

As a result, employment experts say that employers must “seriously consider their recruitment processes” and consider the possibility of introducing a formal verification process.

The advice is that employers should verify qualifications, particularly for foreign or unfamiliar institutions, by using accredited agencies.

“We advise all employers both in the public and private sectors to consider verifying their current and future employees’ qualifications through the verification agencies whose contact details are available on the website of Umalusi,” wrote the council, which sets and monitors standards for general and further education, Umalusi.

The council has continued to warn about the rise in fake qualifications either bought from fraudsters or received through unaccredited private institutions.

“An illicit industry has built up around this type of fraud,” explained the employment experts.

They suggested that in interviews, employers should focus on competency-based questions to assess a candidate’s experience and knowledge.

“For more technical or specialised positions, employers may consider having candidates take some form of practical assessment,” they said.

Finally, employment contracts and policies should explicitly state that falsifying qualifications is unacceptable, “and the consequences of such misconduct should be clearly stated.”

Read: Employers warned of rise in fake qualifications in South Africa

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