High court overturns Blade Nzimande’s appointment of administrator for Unisa
Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande says he will study the order and decide on another legal route after being ordered to retract his Government Gazette placing Unisa under administration.
The Gauteng Division of the High Court in Pretoria has overturned the decision by Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande to appoint an administrator for the University of South Africa (Unisa).
Unisa took Nzimande to court to challenge his decision to appoint Prof Ihron Rensburg to take the reins for 24 months.
Acting Judge Andre le Grange said in his judgment on Wednesday that Nzimande must immediately retract the Government Gazette issued on 27 October, announcing that he had put Unisa under administration.
Le Grange said Nzimande’s decision was unlawful and in breach of a court order granted by Judge Leicester Adams in favour of Unisa on 24 August 2023.
That order prohibited Nzimande from acting on recommendations from Unisa’s independent assessor, Prof Themba Mosia, until the cases relating to his report had been finalised. Mosia had recommended that Nzimande appoint an administrator and relieve the administration of its duties.
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Nzimande’s office issued a statement on Thursday, indicating that he had noted Le Grange’s judgment and that he would study the ruling and decide on the next legal route to take.
In the meantime, Unisa said it welcomed the ruling.
“The university believes that this court decision is sound and correct, given that the matter pertaining to the review of the Independent Assessor Report, which largely formed the basis of the Minister’s decision, is still before the court and yet to be concluded,” Unisa stated.
Unisa said the management of the university appealed to staff and students not to let the latest developments in court defocus them from ensuring that the academic project forged ahead.
“Management also re-emphasises the point that it is not fighting the Minister, but merely exercising its responsibility towards the institution, its stakeholders and the public at large, by preventing an unnecessary disruption of the execution of its missional mandate.”
Le Grange said in the judgment that the Unisa Council argued that the gazette was contemptuous and in breach of Judge Adams’ order.
Another ruling against Nzimande’s notice to act by appointing an administrator was handed down by Judge Harshila Kooverjie on 4 October 2023. Kooverjie found that Nzimande was in breach of a paragraph in Adams’ judgment. That paragraph indicates that “the first respondent [Nzimande] undertakes not to take any decision pursuant to the report”.
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Judge Le Grange said Nzimande had claimed that the paragraph was a mere “undertaking” and not an “operative order” which he had disregarded.
“Considering this defence (forget for a moment whether the ‘undertaking’ is an order or not) this Court could not but wonder if we have reached a state in our democracy where a Minister’s (a public litigant, who has a much higher duty to respect the law and uphold the constitutional principles) word and undertaking means nothing,” Le Grange’s judgment read. DM