The Sunday Mail
If you have “qualified” employees that are proving to be incompetent, you have every reason to cross-check the authenticity of their qualifications.
It is possible for a person who has never set foot in high school or any tertiary institution to have lofty academic and professional qualifications.
As a result, we have individuals that have bogus academic and professional qualifications. Others are even going further to acquire fake identity particulars.
“We have encountered some applicants with fake Ordinary and Advanced Level qualifications attempting to enroll for undergraduate programmes. While I cannot disclose statistics, these cases have been presented to the Zimbabwe Republic Police and offenders have been convicted,” revealed Midlands State University (MSU) Vice Chancellor Professor Victor Muzvidziwa.
Such fake documents have existed for some time, but the fraudsters have upped the stakes by making the documents extremely difficult to detect.
For a fee ranging between US$50 and US$200, one can acquire a phoney but ostensibly genuine degree, diploma, Ordinary or Advanced Level certificate from any local institution.
Business for the fraudsters is currently booming.
Their clients are commonly desperate job seekers who are trying their luck locally or abroad and are willing to pay an arm and a leg for the fake documents.
Previously, forged documents could be easily flushed out by both private and public companies through a certificates audit system.
This is done through the issuers’ database system.
Criminals, probably working with well-placed officials within the local education system, can now easily go around the system.
“Ndokuitira ma original eku University of Zimbabwe (UZ) (I can manufacture original UZ degree for you). It will look authentic. If you face any challenges with the document, you can come and see me for a refund,” one of the culprits from Mutare, only identified as Mutasa, reassured this writer.
The Sunday Mail Society contacted the Mutare-based dealer purporting to be a potential client.
Mutasa charged us US$100 for a diploma and US$200 for a degree.
“I have connections. The certificate will be automatically loaded in the system the moment we finalise the transaction. But you need to be fast with your payment. Prices are going up due to increased demand,” added Mutasa.
The bogus certificate manufacturer said he needs at least three and five working days to produce a diploma and degree respectively.
To avoid detection when unofficially adding you to the institution’s database, he said he backdates the documents.
For re-assurance, he sent this publication a sample of a UZ Bachelor of Science Engineering Honours degree signed by former Vice Chancellor Levi Nyagura.
“I have a supplier who gives me the original paper with a signature and what I only add are names. I can also produce something from other universities if you are not comfortable with big names like UZ,” he said.
“Dates of qualification on your certificate depend on the details, date of birth, that you give me. I usually prefer dealing with older people so that we backdate to say 2008 or 2010. It is much safer that way.”
However, Mutasa’s criminal activities are not isolated.
Several other criminals are conducting similar operations within and beyond borders.
Diva, who is involved in the illegal syndicate, operates from South Africa.
He manufactures all sorts of documents and charges not less than US$50 for crucial documents like passports and certificates.
“My documents appear legit, so do not worry about getting caught,” said Diva.
“Here (South Africa) we have advanced equipment that manufactures near-perfect documents. The details will be there in the Zimbabwean database to make it look real,” he said in a communication with this publication through the phone.
Sarah, a 34-year old mother of two worked as a secretary at a vehicle branding company in Capetown, South Africa, for two years.
She used Mutasa’s fake diploma, which was said to have been acquired at local polytechnic college and was never detected.
However, she was not sure if the company ever made efforts to contact the institution to verify her qualifications.
She has since resigned to pursue private interests and is now back in the country.
“I got my diploma a couple of years back and I was charged about R200 back then. I was referred to the guy by a relative who was also using fake documents,” said Sarah.
Desperation, she says, forced her to take the illegal route.
“I only had five Ordinary Levels and my parents could not afford to pay for my tertiary education. Accordingly, I struggled to get a job. Even when I travelled to South Africa, they still needed a professional qualification, hence I got linked to this guy who, back then, lived in Highfield,” recounted Sarah.
Using a fake motor mechanics diploma allegedly acquired from Bulawayo Polytechnic, Methembe Mayo (not real name) got employed as a mechanic at a high school in Botswana last year.
“I trained at a local college where I got a college certificate in diesel engine mechanics, but in Botswana a certificate is not really an advantage, so I had to send one of my siblings some money and they got me a diploma for US$80 from a local guy,” confessed Mayo.
UZ vice chancellor Professor Paul Mapfumo feels the culprits might be capitalising on existing loopholes in the system.
“The registrar office is responsible for capturing and updating that data, hence we have put them to task. Right now, I cannot pre-empt much because investigations are ongoing. Be assured though that we will leave no stone unturned,” said Prof Mapfumo.
He said local and international companies send inquiries to check authenticity of potential employees’ documents. He, however, notes this is not deterring culprits.
“The problem may be within, which is why we are investigating. Those who will be caught offside will certainly face the law. This is a jailable offence,” adds Prof Mapfumo.
MSU vice chancellor Prof Muzvidziwa adds they have come up with counter-measures.
“We now have an electronic database of all our former students. There are also printed copies of all the results that are presented and approved by the Senate and these are securely kept by the central records office.
“They can be retrieved upon request by an authorised person. Likewise, entrance to the places where certificates and transcripts are kept is by authorised university employees,” said Prof Muzvidziwa.
He urged law enforcement agents to introduce more punitive measures in dealing with the troublesome criminals.
“Whatever legal action is being taken should be reviewed upwards. Such issues destroy our reputation as institutions as we end up being blamed for producing incompetent students,” he said.
There are fears that the bogus academic and professional qualification holders will compromise Zimbabwe’s educational standards, particularly on the job market.
However, Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development Minister Professor Amon Murwira has a different opinion.
“Acquiring a job with a fake certificate will not affect our ratings out there. Bogus elements are found in every society but it is up to us to expose them,” he said.
Corporates and public entities, Prof Murwira added, had to verify documents whenever they hire new employees.
“I may not be able to give figures but these criminal activities happen and some people are in jail because of that. Organisations need to go the extra mile so that they do not fall victim to these culprits,” he said.
“People should desist from using shortcuts to acquire these qualifications; there cannot be a shorter route to education.”