Unanswered Questions Follow South African University’s Ratsara Vindication

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Unanswered Questions Follow South African University’s Ratsara Vindication

New questions surrounding the preparation and authorship of a doctoral thesis by Paul Ratsara, a Seventh-day Adventist pastor who served for 11 years as president of the denomination’s Southern Africa—Indian Ocean Division before resigning in 2016, have been raised by the publication of a May 16, 2018, statement from a University of South Africa (UNISA) spokesperson.

The UNISA statement expanded on an April 3, 2018, letter from acting UNISA registrar, Professor Qambeshile Michael Temane, a copy of which was provided to The Compass Magazine, which reaffirmed Ratsara’s 2014 Doctor of Theology degree as being “in good standing.” Our May 4, 2018 report on the Temane letter was the first public reporting of Ratsara’s exoneration.

“We confirm that the university did engage the services of an independent investigator to investigate the allegations,” Martin Ramotshela, who identified himself as a UNISA “[s]pokesperson,” wrote in a statement addressed to Alisa Williams, Managing Editor of Spectrum Magazine, a publication of the Association of Adventist Forums.

A copy of the statement has been provided to The Compass Magazine by Spectrum Magazine, and is embedded below:

Ramotshela added, “We also confirm that part of the investigation involved interviews with both Dr Ratsara and Mr Bonya. The investigation established that Mr Bonya participated only in respect of Chapters 1 and 5 of the thesis and only with regard to the provision of raw data, publications and articles collected on behalf of Dr Ratsara. No evidence was found to substantiate the allegations of a ‘ghost writer’ for five of the six chapters as outlined in your query.”

According to the Ramotshela statement, Ratsara’s dissertation is available at the UNISA library, presumably in hard copy. A search at UNISA’s online Institutional Repository of electronic theses and dissertations found nothing online for Ratsara in its author listing. The thesis is listed as being in a UNISA library, but apparently only in printed form.

The UNISA spokesperson also indicated the school would not release a copy of its investigation report “without the express permission of the affected parties.”

In reporting on the UNISA statement, Spectrum reprised its earlier reporting in which it was claimed Pastor Hopeson Bonya, currently an SID vice president, “confessed” to authoring five of the six chapters of the Ratsara dissertation. As far as can be determined, the allegation appeared only in The New Age, a South African newspaper. However, every link to New Age reporting contained in the earlier Spectrum articles leads to an error message stating, “Sorry, but the page you are looking for doesn’t exist.”

The absence of the original reporting from The New Age makes it difficult to verify the assertions others make concerning that news coverage.

Moreover, the online version of the Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook, the official directory of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, lists Bonya as holding a Ministerial Credential, as being a member of the SID Executive Committee, and as being a vice president of the division. Such rankings would indicate Bonya is in good standing as a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and denominational employee two years after the alleged “confession.”

A Ratsara family member declined further comment when contacted by The Compass Magazine. An email inquiry has also been sent to the Southern Africa Indian Ocean Divison, requesting answers to these questions:


(1) Did Elder Hopeson Bonya say that he (Eld. Bonya) had written any chapters of the Doctor of Theology thesis presented by Elder Paul Ratsara as his own work to UNISA?
(2) Is there any way to verify the statements attributed to Eld. Bonya in the public media?
(3) Is Eld. Bonya still a vice president of the Divison, and are his ministerial credentials still in good standing?
(4) Does the Division have any response to the reaffirmation of Dr. Ratsara’s ThD degree by UNISA?

Many Seventh-day Adventist voices within the division and overseas have called on the Division to be more forthcoming about what Bonya said in 2016 at the Executive Committee meeting where Ratsara’s thesis was discussed. It would be helpful if transcripts and/or recordings were released, although this is not the usual practice. Short of a lawsuit or court order compelling such a release, the only recourse left is to request such items.

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About the author

Mark A. Kellner

Managing Editor Mark A. Kellner is a journalist living in Salt Lake City, Utah. From February 2014 to September 2015, he was a national reporter for the Deseret News, and has written about issues of faith and freedom since 1983. Mark also served as News Editor for the Adventist Review and Adventist World for seven years.