Pre-parliamentary inquiry into allegations of corruption, maladministration, nepotism & abuse of authority at Tshwane University of Technology, with Minister

Higher Education, Science and Technology

27 November 2019
Chairperson: Mr P Mapulane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology engaged with the Tshwane University of Technology on the allegations of corruption, maladministration, nepotism and abuse of power levelled by various university stakeholders at the university.

It received a detailed response from the university on all the allegations raised, and an assurance by the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, that the Department had also received these allegations and dealt with some of them. It welcomed the fact that the Department was satisfied that there was no substance to some of the allegations.

However, the Committee expressed concerns about the serious allegations concerning the university's business arm, TUT Enterprise Holdings, and was not satisfied with the explanation provided by the university. It was particularly worried about the allegations concerning the leasing of the student accommodation and other responsibilities delegated to the business entity. It believed that an independent investigation was in the public interest to restore the trust and confidence of the public and all the stakeholders in the entity.

The Committee was of the view that the University Council had not followed due process in the dismissal of a female member of the Council, and called for her reinstatement.  It also took serious exception to the absence of the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) at the meeting to present the complaints they had raised with the Committee.

The general observation was that some of the issues brought to the Committee's attention could be best dealt with by all the stakeholders at the university, and what was required was for the leadership of the university to open up space for more dialogue among those involved. The Committee would engage the university further on these matters in the New Year, when it would conduct an official oversight programme during the registration and reopening for the 2020 academic year.

 

Meeting report

Tshwane University of Technology: Parliamentary Enquiry

The Committee was briefed by the senior management of the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) on allegations of corruption, maladministration, nepotism and abuse of power/authority at the institution.

The Committee had sent TUT several questions, and these were the replies to those questions.

The re-election of Dr Bandile Masuku to a third term of service to the Council of Tshwane University of Technology did not violate or contravene any of the statutes of the University that governed the term of office of the Chairperson, neither was it unlawful.

It was also untrue that the Chair of Council had coerced the TUT Council into re-electing him for a third term, neither had he instructed University management to obtain favourable legal advice to justify the re-election.

It was also informed that the Vice-Chancellor had been appointed temporarily as Acting Vice-Chancellor and Principal, and later on a fixed-term contract as Vice-Chancellor and Principal. 

TUT said it was incorrect to argue that the process followed in the appointment of the Vice-Chancellor and Principal had been irregular or illegal.

Before the appointment of Prof Van Staden into the acting position, TUT was in a terrible state in respect of overall governance, financial state and the morale of most students and staff.

TUT had been placed under administration, and the institution was not an employer of choice among academics with a credible record.

Prof Van Staden had accepted the acting role and in short space of time and proved himself capable and passionate with the enormity of the task at hand.

The extension of the short-term contract of the Vice-Chancellor (VC) took place during a time of financial instability and strikes, and it was important to make decisions that steered TUT towards stability. The Council had looked at all the options available and weighed these against the realities faced by the university at the time, and had taken a decision that it was in the best interests of the university to extend the contract of the acting VC.

A decision was taken by the TUT Council towards the end of that short-term contract to extend the appointment of Prof Van Staden as Acting Vice-Chancellor and Principal whilst the University was being stabilised during a period of turmoil, before undertaking a recruitment process to identify a new candidate for a full-term appointment.

It also refuted allegations that the extension of Prof Mukhola's contract beyond the University's retirement age had been irregular.

It was through a provision of the University's retirement policy that Council had decided to extend Professor Mukhola's contract according to the Vice-Chancellor's recommendation in terms of the policy guidelines and procedure on termination of service, dated 13 August 2012.

The Committee was also informed that Ms Motloutsi had been removed from Council for disrupting a meeting set up to address gender transformation. This was despite several requests for her to refrain from disrupting the training forum, and putting the image of the University into disrepute. Council had scheduled a workshop on gender mainstreaming to which external guests had been invited.

The workshop was aimed at addressing issues related to gender mainstreaming. Such conduct on the part of a Council member was viewed by the University as unwarranted and inappropriate, warranting termination of her appointment as a Council member.

As an organisation aimed at operational efficiency and one that was seen as being responsive to changing realities, from time to time it effected organisational transformation, a process that occasionally led to the creation of new structures and roles. As a result of such an organisational review, the new structure had created a new position for a Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Operations.

The recruitment process took longer than expected, so Mr Rodney Mahlalela had been appointed as the acting DVC: Operations, by the Vice-Chancellor in February 2019, in addition to his role as CFO.

Presentation by Mr Mpho Sikhosana

The Committee was informed that Mr Mpho Sikhosana served as a member of the TUT Council. As a then member of the Council and Students’ Representative Council (SRC) representative, he had led the charge against TUT, which had been accused of vote-rigging during the 2018/19 SRC elections, and had called for a full-scale forensic investigation into TUT. Safety and security had also been raised as a concern.

Allegations of racism had also been levelled against TUT, as many black students felt that they were academically excluded, and called for radical curriculum transformation.

The students also took issue with the administration of TUT Enterprise Holdings (TUTEH). The students alleged that dubious appointments had been made, and that funds had been going out instead of remaining within the TUT.

On 6 September 2018, a meeting of the SRC was called that was attended by all members of the SRC executive. The meeting had discussed the state of TUT. A resolution was then taken that the SRC should write to the Minister of Higher Education to raise their concerns, and this had been done.

This letter detailed the SRC's concern with the re-election of the Council’s Chairperson and Deputy.  According to the SRC, the duration of the term of office of the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson had been fixed, and that the stipulations did not allow for three consecutive terms to be served.

The appointment of Vice-Chancellor Prof Lourens van Staden and the re-election of Dr Bandile Masuku were also challenged.

Report by Nehawu

Representatives from the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union’s (Nehawu's) national office failed to appear before the Committee, and no apologies were offered. Four branch members from two different branches attended the meeting, but they were not a unified force and seemed to contradict one another.

Subsequently, the Committee refused to entertain any submissions by Nehawu officials.

Presentation by Ms Veronica Motloutsi  

Ms Motloutsi raised allegations of abuse of power and nepotism at TUT. It was alleged that she had been removed from the TUT Council after she raised a point that related to governance at TUT. A decision had been taken to appoint males into key positions. This had been done after a resolution had been taken by the Council to appoint females into senior positions.  Ms Motloutsi was subsequently removed after she was accused of disruptive behaviour during a Council workshop.

In or around 2017, the term of office of the then DVC: Enterprise Development, who was male, became vacant. The position had been duly advertised, and University procedures were followed, including the establishment of the selection panel. However, in a bizarre twist of events, the Chairperson of Council, who was also the chairperson of the selection committee, overtly supported the reappointment of the then incumbent, despite that fact that there was a woman candidate who had by far outperformed the incumbent during the selection process.

To maintain the stability of the University, the incumbent was reappointed to the position of DVC: SAED, despite a dismal performance during the selection process, including the interviews.

There had been clear calls from the majority of the Council members to appoint a deserving female candidate, who had distinguished herself by a large margin. When the debate could not end and the matter was forced to a vote, the Chairperson had felt personally affronted to the point of threatening to resign.

On 7 December 2018, the Council had made a resolution that all future appointments should consider and prioritise women. In spite of the Council resolution, and gender transformation efforts, the Vice-Chancellor had announced at the strategy workshop held on 2 February 2019, the appointment of a male candidate and chief financial officer (CFO) as Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Operations.

This meant that the CFO would hold two positions. This was not just contrary to the Council resolution, but the appointment in itself was also in conflict, as it did not allow for the separation of duties.

Other concerns raised were;

Incompetent, inexperienced and silent Council members.

  • Decisions taken outside Council structures and presented to Council for ratification.
  • Appointment of Dr Masuku's allies to sit and chair various committees to exert the control of the University.
  • Abuse of power by the chair because of his position in the University and the ANC.
  • Lack of leadership and foresight.  
  • Many dismissal cases in the University, representing a cost to the University.
  • Abuse of industry structures such as the Black Business Council, for bullying employees and playing dirty games.

Briefing by Minister Blade Nzimande

Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister: Higher Education, Science and Technology, briefed the Committee on responses to the allegations levelled against TUT.

He confirmed that he had received the letter from Ms Motloutsi and had responded, as well as writing a letter to the Chairperson of the TUT Council and requested that the concerns be addressed. That was the only thing that he as the Minister could do.

He had also indicated that the Council Chairperson should look at the University’s gender parity. He had not dismissed or ignored Ms Motloutsi’s concerns.

All of the allegations had been looked into by the DHET, and had requested the Registrar to give a response on the allegations made. The Department had then checked if the policies of the university had been within the context of the Higher Education Act, and whether they were aligned to deal with some of the issues that had been raised, and what other avenues could be taken outside of the Council.

DHET also looked at the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act, and also checked through processes to establish if there had been any allegations that contravened policy or the statutes of the university. In such cases, the Minister always gave a directive to the entity involved to conduct an internal investigation. If concerns were raised through an international investigation, the DHET would intervene.

The Minister said that not a single allegation should be dismissed, but at times allegations were caught in politics or other contributing factors. It was important to look at allegations not only at face value, but to interrogate the allegations.

The DHET had received responses from the TUT, and the responses were in line with the responses given to the Committee.

Generally, the Department had been satisfied with the responses from the university. However, there were two areas of concern that it picked up on. One was the infrastructure programme. The unit within the DHET that dealt with infrastructure projects had been assigned to engage with the university.

The second concern was in respect of TUT Enterprise Holdings. Many universities had enterprise entities like TUT, and some of them recorded sterling progress. The Minister cited universities that had commercialised their innovations or generated third income funding through other projects as examples.

Although the Department encouraged this, perhaps new DHET guidelines were needed in the form of an over arching policy, as these enterprise entities might be open to abuse. In this instance there had been specific allegations levelled about TUTEH, and a Ministerial directive would be issued to the Council on TUTEH’s business dealings.

The Minister was resolute that TUT had to account, and there was no doubt about that. From DHET’s side, the journey had travelled since TUT was placed under Administration. It used to be in a real mess, but there had been a great improvement under the current leadership.

Finally, he lamented the protocol that had been followed with the allegations. He was of the view that as the responsible and competent authority, the DHET should have been allowed to address the matter first and then informed the Committee. He proposed that the DHET and the Committee should consult.

Discussion

The Chairperson stated that in the list of questions that had been sent to TUT on the irregular and unlawful termination of Ms Motloutsi, it had been asked what process had been followed by the Council in removing Ms Motloutsi, and whether she had been given due process. This question had not been answered, as TUT had said only that the Council had exercised its power to remove a Council member and not how this was supposed to be done.

He requested clarity on TUT Enterprise Holding's accommodation policy, and the processes followed in securing residences for private accommodation. He said that one of the complaints that the Committee had received from the Private Residents Housing Association had been that a middle man acted as a facilitator in these lease agreements.

Mr B Nodada (DA) was quite angry, and said he was tired of sitting in Committee meetings and dealing with entities that experienced problems caused by management. There was a culture of people not wanting to be held accountable, and a total lack of consequence management. He took issue with TUT management for not attending a previous meeting called by the Committee, and deemed it unacceptable.

He referred to the comments made by Minister Blade Nzimande that he intended to submit a report to the Committee on his engagements with TUT and the allegations raised, and said he found it distasteful that the Minister had sat on the report and failed to share it with the Committee. It was the Committee's duty to hold public-funded entities to account.

He lambasted the behaviour of Nehawu and urged the union not to waste the Committee's time again, as there were much more important things to discuss.

He stressed that the Committee did not want to be briefed on the performance of TUT. It wanted to be briefed on the challenges experienced, and how to mitigate these challenges. If there had been no problem, TUT would not have been called to Parliament to account for the allegations levelled against management and the Council. He had received about 90 emails from different stakeholders that had raised the same issues as amplified by the complaints before the Committee. He believed that where there was smoke, there was fire, and that it was the Committee's duty to interrogate.

On governance issues, he requested clarity as to whether TUT had sought legal advice on the legality of electing a Council Chairperson for three consecutive terms. He commented that TUT's institutional policies could not be outside or superior to the overarching legal framework.

He also requested additional information on the background and qualifications of the newly appointed CFO and the relevant job profile. He lamented the fact that the CFO also occupied the acting position of Vice Chancellor for Operations, and commented that one could not be both a player and a referee. The CFO position was very important, and should be devoid of conflict of interest.

TUTEH had been established in 2018 to facilitate a third stream income. What type of income had TUTEH secured?

It seemed that there had been no finalisation of the norms and standards for student accommodation. Was the a structure in place that determined these guidelines, especially since the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) placed a cap on how much students could spend on accommodation?

He suggested there was a need for the Committee to propose that the Council be dissolved and an administrator and assessor appointed to probe the concerns raised, such as the appointments of the Council chairperson and the vice-chancellor, and whether it was ethical for the CFO to hold two positions at the same time. A review of the executive management and the position of Nehawu/NUMSA should also be included. An investigation into the construction projects undertaken by TUT should also be launched.

Mr W Letsie (ANC) expressed his disappointment at the actions -- or rather inaction -- of Nehawu. He said the Committee had cancelled an oversight visit to listen to the concerns raised by the union, among others, yet it saw it fit not to appear before the Committee.

He added that it had been a pity that the Committee did not have the opportunity to interrogate TUT's performance as an institution.

He recalled a Sowetan article that had reported about leaked documents which the Sowetan had seen, which revealed that Pupuru Motebejane -- who was currently Nehawu's regional secretary at Solly Ledwaba -- was alleged to have been appointed to a senior position without proper qualifications.

The allegations levelled by Ms Motloutsi painted a picture of an organisation that was against women’s participation. He requested written details on the staff complement at TUT and what constituted "disruptive behaviour", the violation that had seen Ms Motloutsi fired.

Turning his attention to Ms Motloutsi, he asked how she got to serve on the Council and whether the allegations levelled against her by TUT had been substantiated.

Questions posed to the former SRC representative centred on the altercation between the Council Chairperson and the SRC student leadership, and he wanted to ascertain whether there had been a paper trail. He did not want to be involved in discussing allegations that could not be backed up with evidence. He took issue with both TUT and the other presenters.

He was also interested in getting more information about the threats made against Mr Malose Leopeng, and whether a police case had been filed. He also asked for more information about the case number that had been referenced by Mr Sikhosana, as he wanted to conduct his own follow-up into the matter, as he did not take the allegations lightly.

Mr B Yabo (ANC) said that he had a feeling of trepidation about the picture that had been painted, especially by the Minister's comments when he had said that at some stage TUT was at a situation where things were untenable due to bad governance, and had then been placed under administration.

His feeling was that it appeared on the face of it that the issues brought before the Committee, if not handled with care, may impact on TUT's performance. From where he was sitting, it seemed if that had been no "symbiosis" of minds at TUT.

The highlighted issues may not be that big and might be fuelled by egos and unwillingness by TUT to entertain the views of stakeholders. There also seemed to be misalignment within Nehawu.

He said there had been no substantive gist in the presentations to the Committee, and that it seemed that there had been an inability by management to listen to divergent views.

Broaching the R27 million allocated to TUTEH, he said a lot had been mentioned about third stream funding, but it was unclear what TUT meant by third stream funding. He wanted to ascertain whether there was a business plan in place and what it entailed. He called on TUT to be transparent, as a lack of transparency led to innuendos and allegations.

He also requested more information on the relevant processes utilised for the removal of a Council member.

Ms D Sibiya (ANC) requested a breakdown of how many women and youths served on the Council, and for more information on the appointments of Professors Johan van Eldik and Mark Hay.

Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC) commented that it had been a tough week for the Committee, and the tone of Committee Members was unusual. This indicated that the Committee was not happy with what it had heard.

She was adamant that funds allocated to TUT came from taxpayers and did not belong to the management of TUT. She expressed her irritation with TUT and how it handled its affairs -- there seemed to be no system of democratic centralism.

She also enquired whether there had been no prospect of reaching consensus on how to proceed with the training workshop without having to resort to such extreme measures as Ms Motloutis's dismissal from Council.

She cautioned those who championed gender rights issues to be circumspect as to how they articulated their concerns. She was at pains to explain that it was important for the right people to be appointed into positions, and that one should not advocate for women to be appointed purely because they were women. Anyone appointed into a position should hold the requisite skills and qualifications.

She added that SRCs were an integral part of the governance of universities, and as such nothing could happen without the SRC. It was one thing if the SRC did not fulfil its constitutionally assigned duties, and another if was shut out from key decision-making processes.

She said that TUT was a strike ‘hotspot,’ so it was incomprehensible that the SRC had not been included in the governance of the institution.

She addressed Prof Van Staden directly, and said that no public institution had the right to refuse to appear before Parliament.

Mr S Ngcobo (IFP) lamented the chronic absence of Minister Nzimande and the Deputy Minister at previous Committee meetings, and recommended to the Chairperson that the Committee wanted them to attend important meetings. He understood that the executive tended to be busy, but it also had to be realistic.

He said that TUT's presentation had left him confused, and that it was inconceivable for TUT management not to have a working relationship with the SRC. He also took issue with all key positions still being filled by officials who acted in those positions, and by secondments. This situation had the potential to compromise TUT's performance.

He also lamented the unprofessionalism of Nehawu for their no-show.

Regarding TUTEH, he said that it seemed that the resolution that established TUTEH had gone beyond its mandate.

Ms J Mananiso (ANC) said it was important that the image of TUT should be protected, and that difficulties had to be managed. All role players needed to realise that it was not about them or their interests, but the 65 000 TUT students.

One obvious issue that faced TUT was gender equity, and that had been exemplified by the nearly all-male delegation that represented TUT.

She wanted to ascertain from TUT's management what more it could have done to make sure that those who were aggrieved were made to understand that they were part of decision-making processes. 

She cautioned against entertaining what she called "office gossip," and said that a moral deficit led to there not being an understanding of ethos. She proposed that TUT should organise a team-building event with all relevant stakeholders, and iron out all grievances. She called on those were aggrieved to test these allegations in court by laying charges with the police, and to produce actual proof of wrongdoing.

Mr P Keetse (EFF) recalled the comments by the Council Chairperson regarding the decision by TUT not to appear before Parliament on a previous occasion. He expressed his anger at this blatant show of disrespect, and thought that the invitation to appear before the Committee would have been taken seriously, considering that TUT was publicly funded. Parliament had been charged with the responsibility to hold the executive to account, so he had an obligation to fulfil this duty.

He lamented the fact that Minister Nzimande had failed to communicate that his office had been in contact with all the relevant stakeholders in the matter, and that a report had been drafted in this respect.

He called on all relevant stakeholders to find one another. The Committee could not entertain gossip, but the TUT had an obligation to deal with the issues raised.

He asked for a detailed explanation on the removal process of TUT Council members. He also requested information about the involvement of the president-general of the Insitutional Students Representative Council (ISRC), who happened to be an EFF student leader.

Responses

Vice-Chancellor Van Staden replied that several questions posed to the TUT management would be furnished in writing.

He refuted allegations that TUT was against appointing women into senior positions, and said the institution was committed to gender parity and equity. He cited the election of a woman to the position of Deputy Council Chair as an example of TUT's commitment to this ideal.

He acknowledged the concerns raised by the Committee about the dual roles occupied by the CFO, and said that TUT would implement measures to separate the two roles and fill all acting positions.

He noted that he did not want to be defensive and admitted that there are issues that had to be improved on. One such area was clearly to engage with all relevant stakeholders transparently and robustly.

The Vice-Chancellor stated that TUT had to demonstrate that it was indeed the “peoples’ university” that catered to the poorest of the poor.

He conceded that many of the issues raised related to a breakdown in human relations, and thus common ground could be found, thereby fostering greater transparency.

Dr Masuku added that he welcomed the inputs by Members, and said there would be transparency insofar as information was concerned. He also conceded that matters could have been handled differently, and committed himself to the speedy resolution of the matters raised.

He had a good understanding of the law and had been active in the tertiary education sector for the past nine years. He was adamant that all the required prescripts had been followed.

He emphasised and echoed Vice Chancellor's Van Staden's comment that TUT was committed to gender mainstreaming.

Ms Motloung said that she also did not take her grievances lightly, especially about the manner in what she was relieved of her duties. She was well aware that her concerns regarding her alleged unfair dismissal did not belong before Parliament.

She said there was an account of her trying to engage TUT on her grievances. She raised the issue of the existence of a video of the workshop, and said the video would show that she was not disruptive. She was emphatic that the video had to be made available.

She added that she was a successful businesswoman who travelled extensively, and that she knew how to raise issues about gender advocacy. She was resolute that she was not naive in this regard.

She had been co-opted on to the Council and had participated in all decision-making processes of the Council. She had served as the Chair of the information technology (IT) committee, where she made recommendations and participated in recruitment processes.

She said many Council members had been silent and scared to speak out against the troubles that beset TUT. It was a known fact that the appointment of Mr Rodney Mashaba came about through nepotism, as he was a friend and protegé of the Council chairperson.

Mr Sikhosana said that he did not have a vendetta against TUT. The only issue he had was TUT's approach and bullying tactics. He was not a student at TUT anymore, and had since graduated. He called on TUT to be more inclusive in its decision making, and leave room for engagement.

During his time in the SRC leadership position, he had had only one interaction with the Vice-Chancellor and a Deputy Director General of the Department during a meeting to resolve issues. No other meetings had been forthcoming after this initial meeting.

He added he had evidence to back up his claims, and that students were willing to come and testify before Parliament.

The Chairperson concluded that the Committee would not allow the TUT Council and management to behave as if they were beyond scrutiny. The reasons advanced for their non-attendance before the Committee had been so lousy that they were not worthy of being considered by Parliament.

He addressed the behaviour of the Vice-Chancellor towards the Committee, and deemed it as unacceptable. The Committee had received several complaints from various stakeholders from TUT that made serious allegations of corruption, maladministration, nepotism and abuse of power against the TUT Council and management.

He also took serious exception to the absence of Nehawu at the meeting to present the complaints they had raised with the Committee. The squabbling by various Nehawu leaders at the meeting had been very unfortunate and a bad reflection on one of the biggest public sector unions of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). The fundamental question he posed was, in whose interest Nehawu was behaving.

 The general observation of the Committee was that some of the issues brought to the Committee’s attention could best be dealt with by all the stakeholders at the university, and what was required was for the leadership of the university to open up space for more dialogue among the various stakeholders.

He further urged the Vice-Chancellor and his team to serve this prestigious people's institution with humility.

The meeting was adjourned

 

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