Maverick Citizen


Internal ructions and disruptions at SA universities skyrocket with government pulled into fray

Internal ructions and disruptions at SA universities skyrocket with government pulled into fray
Illustrative image: AI Midjourney I Unsplash I Supplied photos DUT, Unisa, UFH, VUT, UL logos Durban University of Technology University of Fort Hare Vaal University of Technology University of Limpopo

Spats and allegations of maladministration during the awarding of contracts and overstepping statutory rules for appointments rock SA’s six universities — including University of the Western Cape.

The Council at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) instituted a forensic investigation into a multi-million rand delayed infrastructure project last year, but the university is now tightlipped about its outcome.

It is the latest university to have to deal with allegations relating to mismanagement in its procurement process.

In the past weeks, information surfaced that the DUT Council hired SekelaXabiso (SkX) Protiviti to probe the project estimated to cost R34,365,217.93.

According to an undated progress report of the investigation, which Daily Maverick has seen, the project started in 2019 and was meant to construct an extension to the Engineering building and additional Lecture Venues at the Indumiso campus.

This also included the construction of a Student Centre and Multi-Purpose Hall at the Steve Biko campus.

However, the progress report states that the project exceeded its budget and the DUT Council was requested to provide additional funding to have it completed.

At its special meeting on 17 April 2023, the Council approved the funding with a resolution that a forensic investigation be conducted to find out what went wrong in the project implementation process.

The report made findings relating to maladministration.

Some of the findings alleged that representatives of Vuvamu Pty Ltd — one of the companies appointed for the project — were invited to the bid specification committee, participated and made binding decisions without having authority and signed the bid specification approval forms.

But, DUT did not respond to specific questions relating to the findings, the status of the investigation and whether it had been finalised.

“Matters discussed by council remain confidential until their conclusion whereafter council may pronounce through normal communication channels,” DUT said.

Vuvuma stated that Daily Maverick questions were referred to DUT and that the company will “wait for client’s response”. This is despite the questions being about findings against the company.

SkX never responded to questions despite a telephonic confirmation to revert.

Pending similar cases

Other universities that are currently dealing with such issues include the University of South Africa (Unisa) and University of Fort Hare (UFH), which are still in court.

In both cases, at Unisa and UFH, the Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation had to intervene.

The department’s minister Blade Nzimande had to intervene at Unisa by appointing independent assessor Professor Themba Mosia. Mosia recommended the appointment of an administrator and the dismissal of management led by vice-chancellor Professor Puleng LenkaBula.

However, Nzimande’s attempt to implement Mosia’s recommendations at Unisa have been hamstrung by a court interdict.

Read more in Daily Maverick: High court overturns Blade Nzimande’s appointment of administrator for Unisa

Unisa leadership has managed to file an application to review the independent assessor’s report. The Unisa case is still pending.

The university’s vice-principal for institutional development Meahabo Magano told reporters that on 17 April at its main campus in Pretoria, there were discussions between Nzimande’s lawyers and the university during which a proposal for an out-of-court settlement was made to the university.

“This was followed up with a formal letter to the university tabling the proposal. The university decided that it is both in the university’s and the minister’s interest that the Independent Assessor’s report be adjudicated by the judiciary,” Magabo said.

Nzimande’s department did not respond to questions at the time of writing.

At UFH, Nzimande’s predecessor, Naledi Pandor, appointed seasoned academic Professor Loyiso Nongxa to be an administrator from April  2019 to April 2020.

Nongxa’s appointment was followed by a report compiled by independent assessors, Professors Chris Brink and Louis Molamu, which found that the council had collapsed, among other issues.

In the meantime, UFH has made headlines about the alleged assassination of officials including an attempt on vice-chancellor Professor Sakhela Buhlungu.

Buhlungu has been hailed for his boldness in dealing with corruption and working closely with law enforcement agents to root it out.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Fort Hare VC says alleged criminal syndicate masterminds were connected before arriving at university

He had also faced criticism for unfairly dismissing employees and, in some cases, would later enter into non-disclosure settlement agreements with them.

The UFH case is in court where more details are expected to be unveiled.

Vaal University of Technology

Vaal University of Technology. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sharon Seretlo)

Internal squabbles

Vaal University of Technology (VUT) is the latest university to face internal squabbles.  In April, the VUT Crisis Committee — made up of former Student Representative Council (SRC) members and alumni — requested an intervention by chairperson of the VUT Council Professor Mandla Radebe, members of the parliamentary portfolio committee on higher education and department officials.

Radebe was re-elected to chair the council at a meeting on 24 November 2023.

The committee stated they believed there had been a contravention of university statutes, institutional rules and policies.

“Firstly, we make reference to the council meeting of 24 November 2023 wherein a ‘new’ chairperson of council was voted in without following the institutional rules. The nomination forms for the election of the chairperson were not distributed five days before the meeting which is against the institutional rules that are gazetted under the university statute and the Higher Education Act 101 of 1997,” the committee wrote.

Council, the committee stated, cannot operate outside the institutional rules and the alleged failure to distribute nomination forms on time could not be justified.

“Secondly, the council has been aware of the vacancies and we believe that it was illegal and illogical for the few members in attendance to elect a chairperson without meeting the 40% requirement of internal council members.

A legal opinion had indicated that the meeting met quorum but there were vacancies of internal members of council elected by the SRC that were “deliberately sidelined”.

This was despite the SRC being constituted on 11 October 2023.

“Academic and non-academic employee elections to council were held around the 20th of September 2023 but the elected officials were deliberately sidelined from the council meeting without any justification.”

The senate, the committee claimed, was not represented in the meeting.

The convocation representatives to council, who are external members of the council, were also “sidelined from the meeting that elected the chairperson” though they were recognised by the university 34 days before the council meeting.

“We believe this was done deliberately to give Prof Mandla Radebe complete advantage on the day,” the committee stated.

From the attendance register, the committee stated that Radebe was elected by just eight people less than half the number of council members.

Vaal University of Technology, universities

Vaal University of Technology in Vanderbijlpark, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Frank Trimbos)

Other issues raised in their correspondence included the appointment of new personnel in acting positions despite not being employees at the university.

VUT head of corporate communications Dumile Mlambo said the university had taken note of the correspondence circulating on various social media platforms.

Mlambo said it is imperative to clarify from the outset that “there is no entity officially recognised by the university as the VUT Crisis Committee”.

Furthermore, Mlambo said the allegations in the circulating message were “unfounded and lack credibility”.

He said it is essential to emphasise that Radebe was democratically elected to his position in accordance with VUT statute and procedures.

“Similarly, all executives serving in acting capacities were appointed following rigorous adherence to VUT policies and guidelines,” Mlambo said.

He added: “The university stands firm in its commitment to transparency, integrity, and adherence to established protocols in all its operations. Any concerns or inquiries regarding university governance should be directed through official channels for proper investigation and resolution.”

Nzimande’s department and the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Higher Education did not respond to questions at the time of writing.

The University of Western Cape, UWC

The University of Western Cape. (Photo: Gallo Images / ER Lombard)

Recently, Daily Maverick has reported on tensions brewing within structures at various universities such as the University of Limpopo (UL) and the University of Western Cape.

At UL, allegations have been levelled that the university failed to appoint a vice-chancellor candidate and instead opted to extend the contract of 70-year-old Mahlo Mokgalong for another two years.

Read more in Daily Maverick: How University of Limpopo re-elected its council chairperson ‘for a third term’ against statute’s two-term limit

The UL Council also re-elected 70-year-old Pandelani Nefolovhodwe as chair despite allegations that he exceeded his term in office.

Higher education picture

There are 26 public universities in South Africa but between 2010 and 2022 about six universities, which are historically disadvantaged institutions and merged institutions, were put under administration.

These include the University of Zululand, Tshwane University of Technology, Walter Sisulu University, VUT, Central University of Technology and Mangosuthu University of Technology.

Interestingly, traditional universities such as the University of Cape Town (UCT) and Stellenbosch University have managed their crises internally without any ministerial intervention.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Parliament weighs in on UCT’s big Phakeng-Ngonyama failed leadership mess

Government only requested UCT to submit a report on how they managed their crisis involving former vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jacques Siebrits says:

    If I’m not mistaken Prof. Lawack previously applied for the VC position at Stellenbosch and UCT and wasn’t appointed. So maybe she wasn’t the best candidate for the UWC position, despite being an insider?

  • Geoff Coles says:

    I couldn’t read it through, all so typical iro procurement and the evident opportunities of tender and other corruption with no basic controls.

  • Graham Nelson says:

    Oh no…. !!!
    If the government steps in we can expect bailouts for years to come to fund the corruption, and totally dysfunctional universities.

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