Unisa bosses block Minister Nzimande from announcing administrator decision for embattled university
Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande was due to make the announcement of his decision to appoint an administrator on Friday, but a high court judge has flagged a problem with his notice and granted the university’s urgent interdict.
Authorities at the University of South Africa (Unisa) have successfully interdicted Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande from announcing who will take over control of the embattled university on Friday, 6 October 2023.
Daily Maverick established on Thursday that there was drama behind the scenes ahead of Nzimande’s planned announcement, after the office of the State Attorney filed a “notice of intention to act” on behalf of Nzimande against Unisa at the Pretoria High Court.
According to the notice, dated Wednesday, 4 October, Nzimande intended to “publish and implement his decision regarding the council of Unisa”.
This notice was followed by a statement by Nzimande’s spokesperson, Ishmael Mnisi, on Thursday confirming that Nzimande will make the announcement today (Friday).
The State Attorney’s notice cited two cases that Unisa had lodged against Nzimande and Unisa independent assessor, Professor Themba Mosia.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Unisa vice-chancellor’s fate in the balance after Nzimande plans to put institution under administration
In the first case, the university’s council is cited as an applicant seeking to interdict Nzimande from appointing an administrator.
The second case is viewed by insiders as Unisa vice-chancellor, Professor Puleng LenkaBula’s application to set aside a report by Mosia, which recommended that Nzimande appoint an administrator for Unisa and relieve the administration, led by LenkaBula, of their duties.
In that case, the notice cites her as the first applicant, her management committee as the second applicant, Unisa council chairperson James Maboa as the third and LenkaBula, as senate chairperson, as the fourth and Unisa as the fifth.
Former Unisa head of legal services, advocate Modidima Mannya, who was dismissed on 3 August 2021, is listed as an “intervening party” in the State Attorney’s notice.
Mannya represents former Unisa registrar Professor Stewart Mothata, who was dismissed by Unisa in June.
He said he was intervening on behalf of Mothata and the NGO Right2Justice.
Before his dismissal, Mothata was secretary of the council. He was fired after he allegedly raised concerns that the council was an illegitimate structure because it did not reach a quorum after the resignation of several councillors.
This was at the height of the council’s deliberations on how to respond to Mosia’s report.
At the time, LenkaBula stated in a letter addressed to him that he was fired for having ignored Unisa by not complying with his obligations towards the university and contravened policies and regulations.
Mothata also filed an application arguing that the council is not properly constituted and seeking an order directing Nzimande to appoint an administrator.
The cases are linked to Mosia’s report.
Mannya told Daily Maverick on Thursday evening that Unisa had gone to court to bring “an urgent application” to interdict Nzimande from making his decision public on Friday.
He said they were also applicants in a court order which led to Nzimande taking the decision and giving the council 30 days to make representations.
“We are intervening because we are joined in the current applications,” he said.
Before the outcome of the interdict bid, Mnisi confirmed to Daily Maverick on Thursday evening that they were dealing with cases brought by Unisa. “As we speak our legal team is in court on this matter, on the case brought by Unisa. We, however, are opposing their application.” He said more details would be shared on Friday when Nzimande made his announcement.
Unisa’s communications team said questions sent to them were forwarded to a senior executive to respond.
‘Nothing of substance’
In his statement on Thursday, Mnisi said Nzimande served Unisa with a notice of his intention to place the university under administration.
“The minister delayed to make his decision on mutual agreement that the period of the written representations be extended to the 4th September 2023,” Mnisi said.
Being mindful of the legal and administrative requirements, he said Nzimande awaited the response of the Unisa council and nothing of substance happened for more than a month.
Instead, Mnisi said, the council has gone about its business as if there is no pending decision to be taken. “As a result, the minister cannot wait indefinitely without taking a decision.”
Nzimande’s intention to place Unisa under administration follows the reports by Mosia and the ministerial task team (MTT), which was chaired by Dr Vincent Maphai.
Mnisi said Nzimande is satisfied that Mosia’s report reveals financial and other maladministration of a serious nature and serious undermining of the effective functioning of Unisa.
“The report also reveals that the appointment of an administrator is in the best interest of Unisa and of higher education in an open and democratic society,” he said.
The MTT, on the other hand, had conducted an independent review of the university and looked at the issue of “Unisa’s mission drift” – which had massive implications for the financial sustainability and future of the university.
The MTT was also tasked with making a rigorous assessment of how the Fourth Industrial Revolution and its associated disruptions and shifts will affect many aspects of the academic mission, academic programmes, markets and operating model of Unisa.
About the interdict
According to a draft order by Pretoria High Court judge Harshila Kooverjie dated Friday, 6 October 2023, Nzimande has been interdicted from taking any action in respect to his notice and has been ordered to pay Unisa’s legal costs.
Kooverjie said Nzimande’s notice was in breach of another order issued by Pretoria High Court judge Leicester Adams in August 2023, which prohibited the minister from acting on Mosia’s recommendations until the cases relating to his report had been finalised. DM