In a daring move, the council of the University of Zululand (UniZulu) has taken a decision to investigate its relationship with the portfolio committee on higher education and training, as well as the recommendations of the committee.
During a portfolio committee meeting held on November 22, 2017, the department expressed a lack of confidence in the university council and management to resolve a myriad of challenges it is currently grappling with.
In the minutes, published by the Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG) – a nonprofit entity that records and avails minutes of committee meetings publicly – the department stated its belief that the council and management of the institution were corrupt, badly managed and “unanswerable even to Parliament”.
The committee had in early 2017 held hearings into allegations of corruption, maladministration, malfeasance, securitisation of campus, intimidation and victimisation of staff members and students and purchasing of luxury houses for management while students lived in squalor. This was followed by the meeting in November, which eventually recommended that a forensic investigation be carried into the climate of wrongdoing at the institution.
“The vice-chancellor [VC] and chairperson of the UniZulu Council had refused to appear before the portfolio committee, which had asked that Rule (167) of the National Assembly, be invoked to compel them to fulfill this obligation. According to the DHET, the VC was not suitable to hold such an office, and had noted that student governance had been unstable because of repeated disruptions in the election of an SRC, as well as the absence of a Dean of Students until August 2016.
“The DHET had identified that polarised relations existed between UniZulu and other stakeholders, and staff were being victimised by university management, creating a climate of fear at the university. Moreover, there was an allegation over the disappearance of R11.5 million, as well as other acts of corruption, and the DHET was awaiting the final audit report to react to these accusations. UniZulu had stated that it was in the process of replacing Council members whose terms of office had expired, and was taking steps to improve on their governance challenges,” an excerpt of the minutes reads.
Sibongile Mchunu of ANC “appreciated the response of the DHET on the situation at UniZulu, but was afraid collusion might arise between the Vice Chancellor – who was deemed unsuitable for the position – and the Council, and asked what steps could be taken to prevent such an occurrence. She asserted that justice was not being done to UniZulu, because the matter kept coming up”.
The minutes further indicate the chairperson, Connie September, was of the opinion that the DHET was “afraid” to approach the UniZulu matter comprehensively because maybe the authorities there knew something about them, and were attempting to use blackmail.
Dr Bozzoli of the DA asked when a timeline could be provided for when the UniZulu forensic report would be ready, and in response, September mentioned that the matter could not be carried into 2018.
It has now emerged, according to information The Citizen received from various sources within and outside of the institution who pleaded for strict anonymity, as some have been fired for whistleblowing, that the council’s Executive Committee (EXCO), resolved at a meeting last week to institute a probe that materially differs from what parliamentarians have directed council and management to focus on.
Those close to the shenanigans at UniZulu suspect this investigation is a farce, as the chairperson of council, Cyril Gamede, and vice-chancellor Prof Mtose are alleged to already be colluding to produce a whitewash report.
A damning aspect of this investigation is that the university has allegedly handpicked a law firm specialising in conveyancing to undertake the task, although a significant portion of the work to be carried out relates to forensic investigation. The Government Gazette confirms the same law firm rendered services to Umgeni Water, where council chairperson CV Gamede was the CEO.
The “terms of references” for the investigation deliberately excluded the investigation of “the use of a specific private security company which charged exorbitant fees for its services” as per the committee’s report of June 2017.
The committee also recommended that “the Vice-Chancellor should set up a forensic investigation into the function of cooperatives at the University as well as a company which had links to some Council members”.
The conveyancing attorneys will instead be investigating “executive and staff housing”, “the process in respect of the appointment of the Vice-Chancellor to establish whether there was any corruption involved”, “all staff dismissals of the University to establish whether the process was free and fair…relying on court rulings”, “all criminal cases instituted by the university”, and “the lapse of recognition of Nehawu as a recognised union …”
Point 1.6 of the terms of reference states: “To investigate the relationship between the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education & Training and the University of Zululand,” and point 1.7 reads: “To investigate the recommendations made by the Portfolio Committee in its letter dated 06 November 2017.”
Stakeholders, including students and former employees, are not amused by this decision. They see it as a manoeuvre by Mtose to hoodwink parliament and the department to think the institution is implementing recommendations of parliament while the council effectively obfuscates the matter and exonerates itself. They also allege the council unilaterally extended terms of office of members whose term expired in October 2017.
“Who are going to be the stakeholders? How can council can be a stakeholder if they are investigated? It’s a sham because parliament said council must be investigated by the VC, and VC must be investigated by the council. Unizulu so far remains the only institution facing allegations of corruption has not been held accountable,” the former employee said.
“I would want the minister and parliament to hold the council and the vice-chancellor accountable, the only stakeholders who stands to lose are students,” a student leader added.
This sentiment was supported for a former council member whose term had expired – he pleaded with Minister of Higher Education Hlengiwe Mkhize to wake up to the realisation that UniZulu is “rotten” and place it under an administrator or a legal curator.
An employee of the law firm wrote to The Citizen: “The relevant person attending to this matter will revert to you shortly.” The Citizen will publish the name of the company once it has acknowledged it was awarded the contract as well as their responses to questions fielded.
Felicia Lombard, acting media liaison officer for the portfolio committee on higher education and training, sent an emailed response: “By Direction of the Chairperson, Ms Connie September, kindly consult the office of the Minister [Prof Mkhize] on your query regarding the University of Zululand. The decisions of the National Assembly had been sent by the Speaker to the Minister whose responsibility it is to respond to Parliament on this.”
Madikwe Mabotha, chief director of communications for the department, sent in emailed response: “I will follow this up and revert back soonest.” The Citizen will publish his response as soon as it has been received.
Sinegugu Ndhlovu, public relations manager for Unizulu, “acknowledged” two emailed queries the council and management this week. The Citizen will also publish the institutions’s response.