Professor investigated for plagiarism
National Lotteries Board chairperson Professor Alfred Nevhutanda appears to have plagiarised large chunks of a paper he presented to the South African Transport Conference in July 2007 and then tried to cover up his unacknowledged use of material when confronted with the evidence.
There are also strong indications of plagiarised material in another paper he delivered a month earlier at an annual international energy congress in Baku, Azerbaijan, which resulted in him being awarded a professorship by Azerbaijan’s International Ecoenergy Academy.
In both instances, Nevhutanda’s spokesperson, Mpho Tsedu, claimed that the papers seen by the Mail & Guardian were not authentic and had not been presented at the two conferences.
In the first case, a source alerted the M&G to a paper allegedly compiled by Nevhutanda and presented at the four-day transport conference in 2007 in Pretoria while he was chairperson of the Operating Licence Board of South Africa.
After finding the document on the University of Pretoria’s website, the M&G compared it with two other published papers and found that large sections – which Nevhutanda did not acknowledge – were identical. In one instance he appears to have lifted an entire section, word for word, from a research paper penned by University of Cape Town academics Lisa Kane and Roger Behrens for the transport conference in mid-July 2002. The borrowed section seeks to show how transport planning models have evolved since the 1950s.
When confronted with the evidence, Tsedu claimed that the version of the speech seen by the M&G was not the same as the one presented by Nevhutanda at the conference and provided what he claimed was the authentic version.
The “authentic” version differs by including an attribution to Kane and Behrens in a section heading, including quotation marks around certain paragraphs and in acknowledging Kane and Behrens’s work in the bibliography.
An M&G investigation strongly suggests that the paper provided by Tsedu was doctored after the newspaper sent Nevhuthanda questions about the alleged plagiarism on June 12.
The investigation established that, according to its electronic properties, the “authentic” version provided by Tsedu was created on June 16, four days after the M&G put questions to Nevhutanda.
A version of Nevhutanda’s paper was supplied to Document Transformation Technologies for publication before the conference and stored on CD-ROM, and a copy of the paper was stored in the University of Pretoria’s documents depository after the conference ended. In both cases, the paper contains the plagiarised material, indicating that it was the version that was presented.
Two other paragraphs in Nevhuthanda’s paper are identical to material in a 2003 document compiled and edited by Professor John Whitelegg that focuses on transport policies around the world. Whitelegg, of the University of New York, is a member of the European Commission expert working group on sustainable urban transport.
In its initial questions to Tsedu, the M&G did not ask about the apparent lifting of material from Whitelegg and the “authentic version” supplied by Tsedu still contains this borrowed material. Asked about it last week, he failed to respond.
In the other case there are indications that a paper Nevhutanda delivered on oil and gas at a three-day international congress in Azerbaijan in June 2007 contains many plagiarised passages.
The M&G found the paper, titled “Sustainable Development through Oil and Gas in Africa: Lessons from Countries of the Caspian Region” and appearing under Nevhutanda’s name, on the website of a transport company with which he was involved. Large swaths of it are identical to a joint study by the African Union and the African Development Bank delivered at the African Union conference in Cairo, Egypt, in mid-December 2006, titled “Fuelling Africa’s Sustainable Development: The Oil and Gas Perspective”. The version of the paper first seen by the M&G does not acknowledge the borrowed material.
In December 2007 Nevhutanda told the Zoutpansberger newspaper that, on the last day of the conference, he was lauded for his paper, which was voted the best of 300 presented. He said that on the strength of the work he was awarded a professorship in environmental science.
Tsedu was again adamant that Nevhutanda had not presented the document seen by the M&G that contains the plagiarised material. He provided an alternative paper, on the completely different topic of “restoration of natural capital factors”, which he claimed Nevhutanda had presented in Azerbaijan.
However, the 2007 Zoutpansberger article contradicts this version of events. It quotes Nevhutanda as saying his professorship was awarded on the strength of a paper on the same subject as that of the heavily plagiarised paper initially seen by the M&G.
Attempts to obtain further clarification from the International Ecoenergy Academy were unsuccessful.
The chairperson of the transport conference organising committee in 2007, Professor Alex Visser, said: “Allegations of plagiarism are being investigated. We have engaged with the convenor of the particular session where the paper was refereed and are trying to determine what the status is.”
The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.