Dear Mr President
MINISTER NZIMANDE’S HIGH-HANDED INTERFERENCE IN APPOINTMENT OF VICE-CHANCELLOR OF THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH AFRICA
1. Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Dr Blade Nzimande’s interference in the departmental processes and administration of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), and that of the Sector Education and Training Authorities, have been reported to your office several times.
2. Seemingly Minister Nzimande’s ambitions do not stop there as he has set his sights on South Africa’s largest university, the University of South Africa (Unisa), in that he is directly interfering with the appointment of its vice-chancellor.
3. Sources indicate that Minister Nzimande had met with the Unisa council where he raised concern about three main issues:
3.1. The high number of students who yearly, directly enrol from high school at Unisa, a distance-learning institution, and the attending problems when these students agitate for National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) sponsorship and they expect the same kind of support as students at contact-learning institutions.
3.2. High failure rate.
3.3. Implication of the cost of new technologies on the operations of the university.
4. At this meeting, the Minister indicated that there was a need to review Unisa considering the aforementioned challenges. He also indicated that it would be the right time for the review as the term of office of the vice-chancellor would be coming to an end. The common understanding was that the process of appointing a new vice-chancellor would be delayed until the review was completed.
5. At a later stage, the Minister specifically stated that it was the council’s prerogative to appoint the vice-chancellor and that his interactions with the university’s governing bodies should not be misconstrued as interference on his part. What an odd thing to be pointing out, if that was not in fact exactly what he was doing.
6. The Ministerial Task Team that had been made responsible for the Unisa review, started in mid-July 2020 and it would be logical, that the outcome of the review would dictate who should be appointed to implement the review recommendations i.e. in terms of the needed qualifications, experience, skills, etc. This echoes the initial expectation that the vice-chancellor would be only appointed after the review, yet the process of the appointment is being forged ahead with, with the interference of the Minister.
7. Apparently out of the five candidates that had been shortlisted earlier this year, two had withdrawn and there were those in the university establishment that thought the net should be cast wider. However, on 13 October 2020, the council chairperson and a ministerial advisor had apparently announced that they had identified a preferred candidate and that there would be no need to identify more candidates. I understand that interviews were conducted on the 14th, and the earmarked candidate was in fact recommended.
8. It is said that the preferred candidate has raised concern amongst the Unisa management and staff as there is doubt about this person’s experience and qualifications and, also, that there are many South Africans who should be considered for appointment.
9. Unisa’s council is to convene on 21 October 2020 and is expected to rubberstamp the palace decree. It is also clear that a selection committee had only been put in place to satisfy the policy requirements and it served no actual purpose as the decision on who was to be appointed as Unisa’s vice-chancellor was a fait de accompli.
10. However, Unisa’s council will be tested on Wednesday, to see whether they will endorse a woefully dysfunctional process that was spearheaded by a person who is not even a civil servant. The involvement of the Minister’s ‘industrial envoy’, Mr Nqaba Nqandela, who is masquerading as a DHET representative, definitively compromises Minister Nzimande’s promise that he would not interfere in the vice-chancellor’s appointment. Who mandated Mr Nqandela to poke his nose into Unisa’s affairs?
11. We recommend that you ask Unisa’s council, the outgoing vice-chancellor, as well as the Ministerial Task Team to brief you on the need for the review, its progress, as well as the entire process around appointment of the vice-chancellor.
12. By implication, one would expect that Unisa’s council would postpone the consideration of this item on its agenda, on Wednesday, and that it would not endorse appointment of the parachuted-in candidate, until they have satisfied themselves that the minister’s involvement has not compromised prescribed processes and appointment policies.
13. Mr President, although we have written to your office many times, Minister Nzimande continues to use his briefcase lackeys to intimidate all and sundry in the higher education establishment and this must stop.
Mr Bantu Holomisa, MP
President of the United Democratic Movement