Two months after the portfolio committee on higher education and training found there was an unworkable relationship among stakeholders of the University of Zululand that led to instability, a concerned group of former employees at the institution are threatening to take parliament to court if it doesn’t implement recommendations.
The contested report emanated from hearings held in Durban by the committee into allegations of maladministration, abuse of power and corruption against the council and executive management by affected stakeholders on campus. The meeting saw various students factions being kicked out for openly fighting.
“The grave concern of the Committee was that the University was not finding solutions to avert the situation. The Council should intervene and assist in finding solutions to avert the situation so that the core business of the University is restored,” the committee found.
One of the matters flagged was the “suitability” of the vice-chancellor, Prof Xoliswa Mtose. The committee directed the council to hold an inquiry to determine the fitness of Mtose to hold office. It also instructed council to engage parliament on a regular basis with a view to update it “on its plan to turn around the situation at the university”.
Frustrated by the committee’s failure to table or debate the report timeously as per the National Assembly procedure, Save Unizulu subpoenaed parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbete and chairperson of the committee Connie September. The office bearers failed to appear in court, but eventually agreed to release the report publicly and to the group.
This gesture seems to have done little to appease the group, as it has now served Mbete and September with legal papers demanding assurance that the recommendations, which include a forensic investigation into allegations of tender irregularities, are speedily implemented.
The legal representative of the group, Macgregor Erasmust attorneys, reminded Minister Nzimande in the letter that he “bears responsibility for ensuring proper administration and functioning of the institution”, and the committee of its responsibility of “discharging its oversight mandate”.
The group warned parliament that the mooted turnaround strategy at the institution would not materialise if the recommendations were not implemented for as long as Unizulu remained in Mtose’s hands and kept a “supine, apparently complicit council”. The letter reiterates both have been found unwilling or unable to restore stability and pursue the core objectives of higher learning.
“Should the portfolio committee and the honourable minister persist in their refusal to action the above recommendations and to take further remedial action necessary to liberate the university and its students, our client, supported by other interested and affected parties, will take the necessary steps to ensure compliance,” the letter of demand states.
Threats of further legal action against portfolio committee on higher education and training
Responding to the letter, September wrote to The Citizen that parliament’s willingness to end the rot at Unizulu, previously placed under administration under the same circumstances, is demonstrated by the recommendations the committee made and would thus pull out all the stops to ensure the recommendations are implemented.
“As per the Higher Education Act 101 of 1997 the Council and the Institutional Forum have significant responsibilities to ensure that an appropriate environment is created for teaching, research and learning. Thus the Portfolio Committee must ensure that they remain accountable on their legislative responsibility.
“All the roleplayers at UniZulu will be appearing before the Portfolio Committee next week. We will make a determination and look at progress made since our last meeting … [we will ensure] that no corruption remains the order of the day and that the University remains accountable as it relates to their financial responsibility,” September said.
Madikoe Mabotha, the chief director of communications at the department of higher education and training (DHET), told The Citizen earlier this week that the department was “working on a response on Unizulu issues”.