Around September 2016 media reports emerged that accused University of Zululand (Unizulu) vice-chancellor Prof Xoliswa Mtose of splurging “millions while students suffer”.
Mtose was accused of irregularly authorising a R478 000 performance bonus for herself, “although there was no approved policy for it”. This allegedly took place when she was the acting vice-chancellor and earning “an annual salary of R2.9 million”.
The Mail & Guardian wrote at the time that she was also “criticised by staff and students for jetting off to the United States recently – while the university was shut down following staff protests over low salaries”.
The cost of her business class return flight to Washington, as well as a domestic flight within the US, was estimated at R95 000. She also came under fire for living in a R5 million house in the resort town of Mtunzini, although there was a R4.7 million house “on campus reserved for her”.
The publication reported that “she was allowed to furnish her house to the tune of R700 000 and could only exceed this amount with prior approval from the chair of the council. Other executives were allowed to furnish their homes at Zini River Estate to the value of R550 000.”
Documents in The Citizen’s possession suggest that Dr Blade Nzimande, the minister of education, wrote to the chairperson of council in September 2016 to inform Unizulu that he intends appointing “an independent assessor” as a follow-up to a meeting held in November 2015.
Among other items, the meeting discussed the handover report from the then administrator, Prof Chris de Beer, as well as “the status of the draft policies, including financial turnaround strategy”.
“Council is required, in terms of good corporate governance, to ensure the establishment of formal policies and framework for design and implementation of a system of internal controls. The university has had many years of turmoil.
“As the council is aware, the majority of Unizulu students come from poor and working class families, many of whom live in impoverished circumstance in rural areas … it is critical that the university’s academic entreprise and financial management is fully compliant with all applicable legislation and regulations,” the minister wrote.
Hot on Nzimande’s letter was a parliamentary porfolio committee meeting that was initially scheduled to take place at council chambers in KwaDlangweza. This meeting eventually took place at the plush Hilton Hotel in Durban.
The reason for the meeting held outside of campus, as one former student leader alleges, was to create barriers for students to make submissions to the members of parliament.
“The committee was told that there were security issues and the Hilton was booked at university expense.”
“If you are in hospital in ICU there are two things that can happen. You get better or you die. This institution is not getting better. From what I am seeing here today, we can say that the university is literally dying,” education portfolio committee member Sibongile Mchunu remarked.
The Mercury qouted another committee member Dr Nhlanhla Khubisa as having said: “This is a bleak picture. The spending of funds on furniture and the trips overseas. Power is being abused by managers.”
At the same meeting, “Nehawu accused management of spending R35 million on golden handshakes to dismiss staff and millions of rand in employing unncessary private security on campus.”
Council chairperson CV Gamede was adamant that the university’s finances were in good health: “Our financials are strong, we were able to write exams on time last year.”
However, a group of concerned staff members, composed of current, suspended and fired employees, have now taken their fight to the courts. They are seeking a declaratory court order to force Nzimande to release the findings of a 2012 Ernst & Young forensic investigation.
Council and university management, with the minister’s concurrence, are opposing this court application and are arguing that the forensic report was “confidential” and releasing it to applicants increases chances of “exploitation”.
Dissatisfied with both the minister and parliament’s responses to their demands, the group has now issued a subpoena against both the speaker of parliament, Baleka Mbete, and the chairperson of the portfolio committee on higher education and training, Cornelia September.
They are seeking not only access to “the three forensic auditor’s reports concluded during or about January 2012” but are also hoping the Durban High Court will grant them access to “the Oversight Report of the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education visit”.
The group is challenging the public protector’s decision in 2005 to refer the matter to the minister of education, saying “to date the situation has deteriorated to 10 times what it was in 2015”.
The office of the public protector, in correspondence seen, reopened the matter as “new” in June this year. A case number was issued and an investigator in the Durban office allocated.
The Citizen is awaiting a response from parliament on the matter while Busiswa Gqangeni, higher education ministerial spokesperson, referred The Citizen’s queries to Mabotha Madikwe, chief director of communications for “processing”.