University of Limpopo suspends council member for ‘campaign against vice-chancellor’
The University of Limpopo has suspended a council member amid claims that he ‘campaigned’ for the removal of the 70-year-old vice-chancellor, who has been at the helm since 2006.
The University of Limpopo has suspended genetics lecturer Zolani Simayi from council activities for allegedly “campaigning” for the removal of 70-year-old university vice-chancellor and principal, Prof Mahlo Mokgalong.
Simayi, who has taught at the university for more than 10 years, was suspended by council chairperson Pandelani Nefolovhodwe before the start of a council meeting on 24 November 2023.
According to the university website, Mokgalong has occupied the vice-chancellor position since 2006. His term of office was due to end after the 2023 academic year.
However, a source said the council decided to extend his term for another two years.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Report into medical degree corruption may warrant placing Limpopo university under administration
The source said there had been “heated” discussions within the university community about the process to recruit a new vice-chancellor and principal.
This, the source said, was after the university advertised Mokgalong’s post in April. The council had claimed that the applicants were not appointable despite their being academics, some of whom had previously served in the same position at other universities.
“They further claimed that they even failed to get a suitable vice-chancellor through headhunting,” the source said.
This led to the council resolving to extend Mokgalong’s term by two years.
Extension of term
According to the university statute signed by Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande in 2017, the vice-chancellor is appointed by the council and holds office for a period not exceeding five years, and this may be renewed for a further period not exceeding five years.
“When the term of office of the Vice-Chancellor and Principal expires and he or she is available for appointment for a further term of office, Council may, on account of the proven sustainable good performance of the incumbent measured against agreed performance outcomes, decide to re-appoint the Vice-Chancellor and Principal for a further term of office only after consultation with Senate and the Institutional Forum,” the statute reads.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Eight of SA’s 26 public universities fail to get clean audits
In a letter sent to university registrar Kwena Masha on 30 November, Simayi said he was blindsided when he was suspended before the start of the 24 November meeting and that his suspension was irregular. He requested reasons for his suspension and the complaint that led to it, as this was not included in his agenda pack.
Daily Maverick has seen the letter Masha wrote to Simayi on 4 December giving reasons for his suspension.
Masha said the council had processed a submission during its meeting on 24 November regarding Simayi’s possible breach of protocols on how the council conducted its business.
“The allegations are that you have, without due authorisation, engaged with individuals on matters that Council is engaged with,” Masha’s letter reads.
Due to the seriousness of the allegations, Masha said the council had resolved to place him on suspension with immediate effect.
“This is to allow for an inquisitorial process to verify the veracity of the allegations,” the letter reads.
“Council has expressed a need for a speedy resolution on this matter.”
An insider shared a signed but undated correspondence which Daily Maverick understands was submitted to the council by Mokgalong.
Mokgalong’s correspondence is seemingly the submission that was discussed by the council on 24 November and included the complaint against Simayi.
Mokgalong said that on or about 25 September 2023, he became aware that Simayi was engaged in a social media discussion and campaign.
“From the available pieces of evidence, it is discernible that Mr Simayi was supposedly engaged in discussions regarding the works of Council, partly in relation to the recruitment and appointment of the Vice-Chancellor and Principal,” the correspondence reads.
Read more in Daily Maverick: The poor at universities left behind in lockdown, says student union
He said the discussions Simayi was allegedly engaged in were taking place on WhatsApp and have also been seen by Daily Maverick.
“From these conversations, you will notice that Mr Simayi hinted that he will approach me for further discussions around the extension of my contract at the University of Limpopo. Truthful to his words, I hereby confirm that indeed Mr Simayi visited me on or about 27 September 2023 at approximately 14:00.
“As usual, I welcomed him and afforded him an opportunity to present whatever he needed to present for my attention.”
Mokgalong said Simayi had visited him to discuss aspects of the recruitment and appointment of the vice-chancellor and principal.
“In a nutshell, he said he does not agree with Council’s recommendation and that I should consider Senate’s recommendation, which is for a period of six months, and the Institutional Forum’s recommendation, which is for one year. The reasons for him not agreeing with Council was out of concern for my health,” Mokgalong wrote.
Mokgalong then asked if the council had given Simayi a mandate to approach him and whether regulations permitted him to do so.
“At this stage, I wish to concisely focus my attention on what I perceive to be a serious problem and a critical threat to the stability and functioning of [the] Council of this majestic University. This is because I want all of us to appreciate that if Council of this University loses its stature, integrity and credibility owing to the behaviour and/or misconduct of its members, the University will become prone to similar catastrophic tragedies that befell other institutions of higher [learning] in our country,” he wrote in part.
Mokgalong said Simayi “presented acts” that signified a flagrant disregard of the Higher Education Act, the university statute, code of ethics and conduct.
“Second, and in the alternative, he presents with calamitous traits of a charlatan character that lacks rudimentary knowledge and understanding of operations and functionings of Council.
“Hence, it is argued that this case presents yet another frightening risk to the proper functioning of Council of the University of Limpopo. I invite the Chairperson of Council and the entire Council membership to pay closer attention and arrest the threat timeously.”
Mokgalong then recommended an inquisitorial process be initiated to ascertain Simayi’s misconduct, and if established, for an appropriate sanction.
Asked this week about the contents of Mokgalong’s correspondence and Simayi’s letter, Masha declined to comment.
“The matter between Mr Simayi and the Council of the University of Limpopo, as the governing body of the institution, is strictly confidential,” Masha wrote.
“Kindly be informed that this matter is still under investigation, and thus sub judice. Therefore, commenting on the matter that is still the subject of an investigation is both irresponsible and unethical,” he wrote.
Masha said the suspension related only to Simayi’s participation in council activities. DM