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Best response to a cheating scandal? Completely confuse everybody

“[W]e experienced a strange phenomenon for the first time of group copying,” Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said on Monday, announcing the 2014 matric results. 

Motshekga sounded as though she was about to let more of the cheating cat’s whisker out of the bag, long before she got to the 2014 pass rate.  

But it rapidly became clear that the minister intended to supply no understanding at all of the cheating.  

So to provide what she did not, let us try something “first time” too — with Motshekga, that is: compare the government’s published version of her Monday speech with what  she said on SABC television.  

Let’s call the first document the authorised version (AV) and the second the televised version (TV): 

• AV: “However, in 2014, we experienced a strange phenomenon of group copying that has been identified by [state quality assurer] Umalusi and my department during the administration of the 2014 [matric] examinations [and] which needs to be stamped out.  

“In terms of the examination irregularities reported by Umalusi with specific reference to group copying in the KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape provinces, results of 39 centres in KwaZulu-Natal and 19 centres in the Eastern Cape were subjected to an investigative audit by both the department and Umalusi. Eleven centres in KwaZulu-Natal and three centres in the Eastern Cape have been cleared of any irregular activity.” (The numbers in bold are in the original AV.) 

• TV: “However, in 2014, we experienced a strange phenomenon for the first time of group copying that was reported to Umalusi and which took place during the examination of 2014. In terms of the examination irregularities, we reported this matter to Umalusi with specific reference to group copying, for instance in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, which resulted in 39 KZN [centres’] results being withheld and 28 in the Eastern Cape.” (The italics added to this version highlight what does not appear in the AV.) 

In the AV, it’s Umalusi and Motshekga’s department that identified the group cheating. In the TV, the cheating was reported to Umalusi (by whom?) and then her department reported this matter to Umalusi. 

So: Who first identified the cheating? And then: Who first told the nation?  

Umalusi council chairperson John Volmink told the Mail & Guardian on Tuesday that the basic education department “runs” the exam.  

“We … picked up 18 centres where the answers were all the same, and we wrote to the department: ‘Do you know about this?’ And we also said: ‘It cannot be that we’re the only ones that pick[ed] this up.’ Then they said: ‘No, actually we also have some.'” 

All this equals complete national confusion. And one of the minister-as-ventriloquist’s minor puppets, Elijah Mhlanga, told the M&G on Wednesday “there was no evidence of mass cheating as earlier expected”.  

So Umalusi was wrong? But Mhlanga didn’t reply to the M&G‘s second question: “Please explain how the ministry/department did [the ‘clearing’ of irregular activity].” 

Another question: Which has greater credibility — Umalusi or the department? 

Group-cheating lies between impossible and exceptionally difficult either to clear or convict all suspects of wrongdoing. Yet Motshekga expects us to believe she “cleared” several centres within a week or so. 

Finally: Mhlanga said “the department has been investigating” and this “continues”. What a heart-warming relief that was to hear.

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David Macfarlane
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