Unizulu council accuses DHET of being ‘corrupt’, requests Hawks’ intervention
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A committee of the Unizulu council has levelled serious allegations against the department of higher education and requested the Hawks’ intervention.

The scandal-ridden University of Zululand (Unizulu)’s Counex resolved earlier this year that “the services of the Hawks be engaged as an additional source to investigate all allegations/claims made against the university [management and council], the department of higher education and training and other implicated stakeholders”.

Counex is a substructure of the council made up of various chairpersons of committees and the chairperson of council, CV Gamede. Among chairpersons who made this recommendation include the chairperson of the finance committee, the chairperson of the human resources committee and chairperson of the audit and risk committee.

This resolution was taken at a meeting held on February 12, 2017, at the Hilton Hotel in Durban. It is not clear why, despite having suitable council chambers at its main campus in Empangeni, the meeting was held some 170 kilometres away at huge costs. The Citizen was given access to the minutes to the meeting by a whistleblower.

The preface to the formal request for ‘further investigation’ reads: “The university’s reputation has been tarnished in the media. The university also had numerous engagements with the Department of Higher Education Training [DHET], portfolio committee on higher education and training and council on higher education and training [CHE].”

“It is clear that the intention of DHET is to place the university under administration in pursuit of their corrupt intentions. DHET is also using other state organs to help them in the quest for their mission. This is evident in the ‘special’ audit as requested by the minister [Dr Blade Nzimande] from CHE,” the resolution continues.

In 2016, Nzimande wrote a scathing letter to the council in which he flagged maladministration, abuse of power by management, financial impropriety, declining academic standards and ‘degrees for sale’ scandal as some of the reasons that warranted the need for an “independent assessor” to determine if the institution must be placed under an administrative curator in terms of the Higher Education and Training Act.

Professor Barend Raijnath, the CEO of CHE, told The Citizen in August that the ‘special’ audit alluded in the minutes had begun. “The formal process of the audit began with an engagement with the institutional leadership. This happened in January 2017. Thereafter, the panel was contracted, and convened, and began its analytical work. The panel visit to the institution followed in June 2017.”

Baijnath emphasised that the ‘panel report’ “has already been received by the CHE, and is undergoing the normal processes of review through the CHE governance structures, while also securing feedback from the institution on the accuracy of the report. Once the revised report has served (sic) at the Higher Education Quality Committee and the CHE, it will be finalised and conveyed to the institution and to the minister”.

The meetings also took a swipe at the parliamentary committee on higher education and training, and said its summary of a report it compiled into investigations against the university council management of 2016 was nefarious.

Following a heated hearing held in February 2017 at the Hilton Hotel, where several students clashed over who was a bona fide representative of the students and during which Nehawu levelled several allegations against Gamede and Professor Xoliswa Mtose, the committee recommended that the council hold a hearing to determine Mtose’s suitability to lead the university as a vice-chancellor.

The Counex meeting also resolved “the presidency be engaged to motivate for the appointment of a Special Investigation Unit [SIU] and a Judiciary (sic) Commission of Inquiry on the alleged corrupt activities of the University of Zululand and the Department of Higher Education and Training”.

Proclamation of a Special Investigation Unit investigation request 

Nzimande is currently in possession of various forensic reports into the allegations compiled by Ernst & Young that a former CFO, Josephine Naicker, approached the Durban High Court to issue an order that both parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbete and the minister avail the reports to her to prove she was fired for refusing to abide by Mtose’s instructions to approve irregular payments.

A few weeks ago, Mbete and chairperson of the portfolio committee Connie September, agreed to release the reports that recommended a hearing be held to determine whether Mtose is fit to hold office, but Parliament’s legal representative told Naicker the pair had no authority to release the forensic reports, as the legislation gave that authority to Minister Nzimande.

The “chaos” at the institution was also referred to the office of the public protector by a group of axed and current staff members, calling itself ‘Save Unizulu’. An email trail between the members of this group and the public protector reveals how the initial complaint laid a few months after Mtose was appointed an acting vice-chancellor to investigate alleged maladministrationwas mysteriously stopped, but has since been reinstated.

The office of the minister of higher education was asked several times for the past six months on the progress with regards to the decision to send an administrator without a solid response. The Citizen is also awaiting a response from chief director of communications Madikwe Mabotha on the contents of this council subcommittee meeting.

The Citizen also forwarded a set of questions to both Mtose and Gamede and the university’s spokesperson as well as Hawks communications chief. Dr Bongani Ngqulung, President Jacob Zuma’s deputy director-general of communications said he was currently in China with very little email access to respond to questions posed to him.

This article was first published on citizen.co.za