“There is nothing wrong with what I did,” says Wits University’s vice-chancellor, Adam Habib.
This was in response to allegations of nepotism made against him by former Wits employee Khaya Sithole, who claims that Habib and other senior managers forced him to irregularly approve bursaries for certain students, including a friend and classmate of Habib’s son, Irfan.
In 2014, Habib received an e-mail from a student who introduced himself as his son’s friend, complaining that he hadn’t been approved for a bursary. Habib forwarded the e-mail to his deputy Tawana Kupe and associate professor Nirupa Padia asking them to intervene.
Speaking to The Citizen yesterday, Habib said not only was there nothing wrong with his action, but it was “standard practice”.
He added that while he didn’t get directly involved in the processing of applications for student funding, he routinely forwarded correspondence from students to “the relevant persons” and this did not constitute an instruction or undue influence.
“It’s a simple one,” said Habib, adding that “funding and admissions issues never happen at the level of the office of vice-chancellor. It always happens at the level of the school or department or a faculty, and I have received tens of hundreds of complaints from students on a daily basis, regarding their registration, their fees or funding and it is always forwarded to the deans and other senior staff.
“In 2014, that was Tawana and we simply forwarded the e-mail to him that this person has excellent marks in maths and accounting; can they explore and see if they can assist him. That is standard practice.
“I even went further in the interest of transparency to say that he is in class with my son in that e-mail,” he added.
Habib said he was perplexed by what he described as an attempt by Sithole to frame the e-mails as evidence of corruption, calling it a malicious and blatant lie.
Sithole, who is facing a disciplinary hearing at the SA Institute of Chartered Accountants (Saica), is accused by the body of irregularly managing funds while he was the accounting head of the Wits Thuthuka Project, which gave bursaries to poor black accounting students.
In an explosive dossier, he accuses his superiors at Saica and Wits of forcing him to approve nonqualifying students for funding and of a range of other allegations relating to corruption.
Saica spokesperson Kulani Chauke said they could not comment further on Sithole’s claims.
“Given that Mr Sithole is the subject of a Saica disciplinary hearing, we are not in a position to publicly debate and provide specific responses to his numerous claims … any further debate may compromise the outcome of the disciplinary proceedings.
“Saica will therefore not debate myriad allegations made by Mr Sithole until the committee has made a ruling,” said Chauke.