Update added June 1; From ANN, May 31, 2016:     Dr. Paul Ratsara has resigned as president of the Adventist denomination’s Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division. The denomination’s governing body voted yesterday to accept the resignation which, according to rumor, was originally offered last week and comes after six weeks of accusations of academic fraud.

Ratsara said that he was requesting reassignment as a local pastor in his home region, the Indian Ocean Union Conference “to refocus the church that I love, back to its God-given mission and to prevent it continuing to be distracted.” The union conference includes the island nations of Madagascar, Mauritius, and Seychelles east of the African continent.

Pastor Ted Wilson, world president of the denomination, thanked Ratsara for serving as a regional vice president since 2005 and, before that, as the division’s executive secretary. “We thank Paul Ratsara and his wife, Joanne, for their dedication to the cause of God and Pastor Ratsara’s many years of service to the church,” Wilson said. “Many positive aspects of church growth in the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division have taken place under his leadership. We will pray for God’s guidance and blessing on their continued witness for the Lord.”

Ratsara’s decision came after questions were raised in southern Africa about an academic degree held by Ratsara. He received a Doctor of Theology degree in systematic theology in 2014 from the University of South Africa, the largest university in the country. Rumors circulated on the Internet (which Adventist Today has not been able to confirm) alleged that one of the division staff told the division executive committee that he was the ghost writer for much of Ratsara’s dissertation.

The tensions leading up to Ratsara’s resignation began on April 14 when The New Age, a secular newspaper in South Africa, published a story with accusations of fraud against both Ratsara and Pastor Paul Charles, the communication director for the division. Charles claimed a doctoral degree from an organization in India that was not accredited and for which no address or record could be found, as reported at the time by Adventist Today.

Although Ratsara’s doctoral degree has been confirmed by the University of South Africa and his dissertation is in the university library, accusations continued to put him in parallel with Charles. Early in May an administrative committee of the SID ordered Charles to stop making any claim to the doctoral degree he had previously listed, according to a story published by Spectrum, the journal of the largest association of Adventist academics.

On May 23, Spectrum published an open letter signed by several Adventists from southern Africa, including some academics, urging Wilson to investigate the situation. Wilson was on his way to Rwanda at the time to be part of a major evangelism campaign in that country, and went to South Africa last week to meet with the SID executive committee. During the meeting, Ratsara offered his resignation and Wilson suggested that he take some time to think about it.

Pastor Solomon Maphosa, executive secretary of the SID, will function as the division’s acting president until the election of a new president. A division president is appointed by the General Conference executive committee, usually after nomination by a committee within the division organization. It is up to a local conference to invite Ratsara to work as a district pastor.

The SID includes Adventist denominational units in 17 nations with a total population of 182 million. There are 23,000 Adventist congregations with a total membership of about 3.5 million, and the denomination operates seven universities, colleges and seminaries in this region as well as ten hospitals. This is one of the fastest growing areas on the globe for the Adventist faith with an annual membership growth rate that has ranged from five to nine percent since the beginning of the 21st century.

Update:    Adventist Today has received from a source in South Africa a copy of an Email from an employee of the University of South Africa dated May 31, 2016, indicating that the university is “initialising an internal investigation into the … allegations” about Ratsara’s dissertation. No information has been confirmed about the policies of the university relative to writing a dissertation, so it is unclear precisely what the investigation may focus on.

The Adventist News Network (ANN) is the official news service of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. Adventist Today news staff contributed to this article. The photo is Pastor Ratsara speaking at a recent youth congress.