CGE on Gender Transformation in Tertiary Institutions; Biovac; DHET & DSI Budget: Committee Reports

Higher Education, Science and Technology

02 June 2020
Chairperson: Mr P Mapulane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Video: Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology, 2 June 2020

Tabled Committee Reports

The Commission on Gender Equality informed the Committee that during the 2018/19 financial year, the Commission embarked on a Gender Transformation Hearing in Tertiary Institutions. This was influenced by media reports on sex for marks allegations, sexual harassment allegations and the need for inclusion for persons with disabilities (PWD). The Commission further sought to unearth the gender dynamics, and the slow pace of transformation within tertiary institutions. The institutions formed part of the hearings included, University of Zululand; Nelson Mandela University; Sol Plaatje University; Mpumalanga University; and Department of Higher Education and Training. The Commission found that transformation within tertiary institutions is taking place at a slow pace with women and PWDs being underrepresented at top, senior and academic positions. The measures put in place by institutions of higher learning have not progressively increased women and PWDs in managerial positions. The Commission however continues to monitor the progress within these institutions, this is supported by the hearings that were conducted by the Commission in the 2019/20 financial year to track progress on the previous recommendations made.

Members expressed concern that the report was outdated, that the Commission had limited the scope of its probe, it had not followed up on previous reports and the presentation differed from those who were actually in these institutions.

The Chairperson expressed outrage concerning the appointment of Prof Peter Mbati by the University Council as the Vice-Chancellor of Sefako Makgatho University despite allegations of sexual harassment still hanging over his head. He indicated that the Committee will conduct a preliminary inquiry to look into the matter and the Commission will also be invited to present how it was involved in the whole issue.

The Committee heard that Biovac is a South African Vaccine Company in which the state owns a 47.5% shareholding.  The company was established primarily to revitalise some of the capabilities around vaccine manufacturing that were lost post democracy. The presentation took Members through where the company has come from, what has been done to reposition Biovac, its current state as well as the need to respond to global pandemics such as the current one.

Members asked whether Biovac had any partnerships in the pipeline to assist in funding its PPE projects; why Biovac out-licensed some of its work from international partners, what measures could be put in place to popularize the work done by Biovac, what role is Biovac playing in the manufacturing or production of a possible vaccine for Coronavirus, what challenges it was facing and what modalities can be considered in the establishment of a pharmaceutical company.

Meeting report

Opening remarks
The Chairperson welcomed everyone present and checked whether there was a quorum. Upon confirming this, he suggested that Members consider the DHET and DSI Budget Reports. Only Mr P Keetse (EFF) had submitted a comment pertaining to this which was a rejection of the budgets.

Committee Report on Budget Vote 17: DHET & entities
The Chairperson tabled the report for consideration.

The Committee provided recommendations for each departmental programme and for all the entities. Amongst others, these included:

- The filling of all the acting DDG positions (Planning, TVET and CET) should be expedited.
-The Department should strengthen its internal capacity to limit expenditure on outsourced services.
-The Department should have proper systems in place to ensure that the centralised procurement of digital devices is done in terms of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), Act No. 29 of 1999 regulations so that there is accountability.
-The Department ought to improve its oversight and monitoring functions over the work of the SETAs and make sure that all the newly appointed SETAs Accounting Authorities (AAs) are held into account for the governance and performance of their respective SETAs.

Mr T Lesie (ANC) welcomed the recommendations proposed by the Committee and proposed for the adoption of the Report without substantive amendments.

Ms B Bozzoli (DA) indicated that she was instructed to neither reserve the right to neither support nor reject the Report.

The Report was adopted.

The Democratic Alliance reserved its right to an opinion on the Budget Vote Report and the Economic Freedom Fighters objected to the approval of the Budget Vote Report.

Committee Report on Budget Vote 35: DSI
The Chairperson tabled the report for consideration.

The report listed 15 recommendations including:
-The Department provide a comprehensive brief to the Committee on the policy interventions that will transform STI human capital development and cover the full cost of postgraduate support. The Committee will accommodate this report within its 2020/21 annual programme.
-The Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology ensures that the Department plays a prominent role in the design and establishment of the proposed science and innovation university.
-The Department provide the Committee with an update regarding the progress on discussions with the other government departments and stakeholders in its’ attempt to finalise the areas of collaboration and funding for the implementation of the Decadal plan. Following this, a comprehensive brief to the Committee is expected on the final Decadal Plan and how it will affect the priority focus areas of the Department and its entities, as well as its effects on the Department’s organisational structure and budgeting framework. The Committee will schedule these items for deliberation in its 2020/21 annual programme.
-The Department provide a detailed account to the Committee on the effects of the budget cuts, how it has been applied across all its entities, and how these effects will be individually mitigated by the Department and the entities. This should be presented when the Committee considers the 2020/21 First Quarter financial and performance report in August 2020.
-The Minister keep the Committee abreast of the developments with regard to his undertaking to address the decline of R&D investment by the private sector, share further strategies to mobilise R&D investment by the private sector and the envisaged role of State-Owned Enterprises in R&D, as soon as he had completed the necessary ground work for this.
Ms Bozzoli indicated that the Report was well written and captured the Committee’s unease with the TIA and how it’s failing in its mission. She wondered whether in the recommendations the Committee made should have been louder on the matters that the Members were unhappy with.

The Chairperson concurred that Members had issues with the TIA.

The Committee adopted the report.

The Democratic Alliance reserved its right to an opinion on the Vote and the Economic Freedom Fighters rejected the Vote.


Briefing by the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE)
Ms Tamara Mathebula, Chairperson, CGE, informed Members that the institution was established in terms of the Constitution. The Commission is mandated to promote respect for gender equality, protection, development and attainment of gender equality in the country.

The Commission looked at 22 out of the 26 institutions and would present the findings of the public investigative hearings on gender transformation. The Commission will present only four institutions today which were hosted by the Commission in 2016 for investigative hearings as well as in November 2019. These institutions (or Vice Chancellors) were subpoenaed to appear before the Commission and respond to questions relating to gender transformation in those institutions. The Vice Chancellors were also required to furnish the Commission with copies of policies that have been developed, reviewed and adopted as per the Commissions’ recommendations. These policies must be developed in line with the all the relevant legislations and policies in the South Africa that speak to gender transformation, equity and employment. The Commission perused what the institutions have developed so far as well as other initiatives that speak to gender transformation.

Ms Keketso Maema, CEO, CGE, took over the rest of the presentation. By way of background, she explained that during the 2018/19 financial year, the Commission embarked on a Gender Transformation Hearing in Tertiary Institutions. This was influenced by media reports on sex for marks allegations, sexual harassment allegations and the need for inclusion for persons with disabilities (PWD). The Commission further sought to unearth the gender dynamics, and the slow pace of transformation within tertiary institutions. The institutions formed part of the hearings included, University of Zululand; Nelson Mandela University; Sol Plaatje University; Mpumalanga University; and Department of Higher Education and Training.

In respect of the University of Zululand, the findings and recommendations included:
-Since UniZulu could not provide disaggregated data on PWDs, it was recommended by the Commission that it must make effective use of the Recruitment Policy to include persons with disabilities in the workforce.
-The Commission undertook to investigate allegations that pregnant students are expelled from campus residence when they are in their last three months of pregnancy.
In conclusion, the Commission recommended that we shall continue to monitor gender transformation at UniZulu in terms of S. 11 of the CGE Act

See presentation on the background, findings and recommendations of the Commission to these institutions.

In conclusion, the Commission stated that transformation within tertiary institutions is taking place at a slow pace with women and PWDs being underrepresented at top, senior and academic positions.
The measures put in place by institutions of higher learning have not progressively increased women and PWDs in managerial positions. The Commission however continues to monitor the progress within these institutions, this is supported by the hearings that were conducted by the Commission in the 2019/20 financial year to track progress on the previous recommendations made.

For the current hearings DHET appeared before the Commission to track the progress of promoting gender equality at its institutions.

The Commission’s recommendations included the following:
-It is a national imperative that gender mainstreaming be implemented in DHET policies and in the department itself.
-DHET must train its cohorts in respect of disabilities, retain women for higher positions.
-DHET must have a policy addressing gender equality and equity in higher education with set targets.
-DHET must identify ways to attract more finds from private sectors to the NSFAS with at least a tax rebate as a reward.

Briefing by the Department of Science and Innovation
Mr Mmboneni Muofhe, DDG Technology and Innovation, DSI, .gave an introduction on Biovac and said that it was a South African Vaccine Company which is one of the few in the continent. The state owns a 47.5% shareholding and it was established primarily to revitalise some of the capabilities around vaccine manufacturing that were lost post democracy. The presentation will take Members through where the company has come from, what has been done to reposition Biovac and its current state as well as the need to respond to global pandemics such as the current one.


Dr Morena Makhoana, CEO, Biovac, took Members through the presentation and spoke about the vaccine market in South Africa, provided a background about Biovac and Covid-19 vaccine manufacturing possibility.

Biovac supplies high-quality, safe and effective vaccines to the public sector, and is a leading supplier of paediatric vaccines to government's Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI).Biovac is a public-private partnership between government and the Biovac Consortium.
In the current or short term, the facility is available immediately and technology transfer activities can start in three months. However, the product readiness would take about 12 to 18 months dependent on the technology.

The Chairperson had hoped that Members would be also informed about the discussion taking place now between DSI and the Department of Health, mainly around the establishment of a pharmaceutical company. From this, Members could then understand the context from which Members were engaging with Biovac. There are some challenges there, unless those challenges have been resolved. He asked the DDG to comment on that before discussion ensued.

Mr Mmboneni Muofhe said that these were two different issues and the presentation made by Dr Makhoana also highlighted that issue. There are two different processes in this entire discourse; one is the manufacturing of the vaccine which currently happens under Biovac. The second one is the issue highlighted by the Chairperson which relates to pharmaceutical drugs and related active ingredients. The latter is generally the chemical processes, such as HIV drugs and TB drugs – these are not part of the vaccine manufacturing industry and portfolio. This is why it was not covered and it needs to be dealt with differently. The vaccines follow a much more difficult process than the pharmaceutical process and they are being treated in a different manner.

The Chairperson appreciated the response and indicated that the Committee was also interested in entering into that space for engagement.

Discussion
Ms Bozzoli said that she found the Commission’s presentation problematic because the survey that was included in the presentation was two years old. The Committee then made a number of recommendations and the Department was then called to respond to the resignations, and this matter was taken further. It looks like the Commission was also following up on the old work that it did. But there was no indication provided on what was discovered in the follow ups. She wanted to know about this.

It did not seem that Members would learn anything new about what was actually going on in universities currently or recently. As far as gender based violence is concerned, this was last presented in 2018 and universities were requested to do some work on this and brief Parliament on the outcome. She wanted to know what happened with that report and asked the Commission to inform Member on its findings in its follow ups to the 2018 reports.

As for Biovac, she found the presentation interesting and that the outfit was quite inspiring. She was concerned about the funding of the PPEs, which needed money. There is no government department that has large amounts of money and asked whether there were any partnerships that could take the initiative forward. Lastly, she asked why Biovac was out-licensing some of its work to international partners.

Mr Letsie said that the Commission had limited its scope of work regarding the issue of male versus female workers. He understood gender equality as a broader discourse inclusive of people living with disabilities; thus, he was slightly disappointed.

The Commission also did not go into details on its infrastructure projects regarding youth-owned, female owned, and people living with disabilities who participated in such programmes in institutions of higher learning. He then wanted to know the last time it conducted a survey on the status quo in the sector.

In May last year, before the Sixth Parliament, the former Minister had appointed a Task Team to advise the Ministry on measures to prevent gender-based violence in institutions of higher learning. He was uncertain whether the Commission was consulted. The Commission has done a lot of work on gender transformation in universities but what work was the Commission doing in other entities of DHET such as CETs, and TVET colleges.

As for Biovac, he welcomed the presentation and indicated that many South Africans did not know much about the work that was done by Biovac. He asked what measures could be put in place to popularize the work done by Biovac. Secondly, what role is Biovac playing in the manufacturing or production of a possible vaccine for Coronavirus?

Thirdly, there was no detailed information on the challenges that Biovac faces. This will assist the Committee to ascertain where it can assist in addressing some of these challenges.

Mr Keetse asked Biovac about the modalities that can be considered to advise the Department and the State to fast track the establishment of a pharmaceutical company.

Secondly, it was the responsibility of the Commission to normalise gender equality and ensure that it was a normal thing to have majority of women occupying top positions in structures.

Dr W Boshoff (FF Plus) said that the presentation from the Commission was very different from the reports that have been received from people who were actually in these institutions.

As for Biovac, the CEO referred to a discontinuation in 1999 for one of the companies and there was a surge of thinking at that stage. There were also talks that as a developing country South Africa should not invest in such steep projects due to fiscal constraints. The President promised huge sums of money for some sectors to deal with Covid-19 and some will have cuts; will Biovac experience a cut or an increased financial support from the State?

Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC) suggested that the Committee needed to ensure that a centralised formulation of policies that speaks to gender equality and transformation ought to be in all institutions and should be prioritized. There is a significant disjuncture between gender offices of the university and the SRC when it came to dealing with some of these issues. There is no functioning security infrastructure to ensure that students who are victims of GBV had immediate access to assistance or their risk exposure was significantly limited. When we speak to the university officials, they always tell us about the plans they have in place to address these matters and what they have going on in their campuses to curb GBV but when you speak to the students, it is a different tone. There is no alignment. There is no gender parity in some of the institutions’ structures.

Further, there needed to be an improvement in the legal system because there is often another disjuncture in the processes of the universities when dealing with GBV cases and reporting those cases to the South African Police Services. When these matters remained unattended it poses a significant threat to student wellbeing on campuses.

Are there plans to increase the capacity of the CGE to address GBV cases in the higher education sector? Has the CGE made any follow up with various departments after last year’s uproar about increasing security infrastructure across various institutions of higher learning? There were also various commitments made by various departments to assist in bringing this infrastructure to fruition; have any follow ups been made about this?

Lastly, where there any timeframes given to the institutions to review or formulate their policies? If so, have they met those time frames? If not, which institutions were still lagging behind? Members are continuously seeing the link on how pivotal it is to ensure that the funding of students is successful and accessible in order for them to ascend to post graduate studies.

The Chairperson directed a question towards the CGE and said that there was a case lodged by Professor Phendla who was Dean of Education at the University of Venda. This was a case of sexual harassment against the then Vice Chancellor, Professor Peter Mbati. The Commission investigated the complaint and produced a report on the 4th of December 2014. There were two key findings in that report. The first finding was that, the Commission found that the allegations of sexual harassment by Professor Phendla were convincing. The second finding was that the failure of Council and Management to take the next steps after the collapse of the mediation process was a direct contravention of the university’s policy on sexual harassment. After which mediation failed, the next step was to request the report and charge the Vice Chancellor. The university did not follow that even though the Commission made it clear that there was a direct contravention of the university’s policy on the matter. The university was to implement formal charges after which mediation failed. The Report by the Commission was taken on review and litigated against by Professor Mbati and the University. That litigation resulted in an out of court settlement.

He was concerned that, it seemed the Commission consented to be gagged. It is not clear why the Commission allowed itself to be gagged by that litigation. Also, the recommendations in the Report were not contested and despite this fact; it does appear that the Commission did not follow through because the university never implemented the recommendations of the Commission on the implementation of its Sexual Harassment Policy. The Mediator was requested to bring in the report but that was contested by Mr Mbati in the Thohoyandou Court. That was not the Mediator’s report but that of the university and it did not defend its own report. It is clear that they were acting in cahoots with the then Vice Chancellor. As a result, that report was set aside- it even confirmed the findings of the Commission.

He asked the Commission to comment on why it failed to follow through its own recommendations. These were clear. Professor Mbati was to be charged but nothing was done.

As we speak now, the same Professor Mbati just popped up again at Sefako Makgatho University  (SMU) as the Vice Chancellor with all these allegations against him. These allegations were never tested in any forum after the recommendations of the Commission. It is deeply concerning that there was no follow up on the recommendations of the Commission.

He asked the Commission to provide an explanation regarding this case. This case remains a classic example that the victim of sexual harassment was left to fend for herself while the perpetrator has been busy roaming the streets, even worse that he now occupies another top position in a public institution.

To the Department, he wanted to know about the future of Biovac – it seems like an agreement coming to an end, now in June.

Ms Mathebula responded first. She confirmed the task team that was formulated by the previous Minister. The Task Team was appointed to advise on management and prevention of sexual harassment and gender based violence matters. It was a 12 month team with specific terms of reference but overall the team was to advise on GBV matters in all universities. The CGE was not part of that Task Team because it is an independent institution and its mandate did not allow it to participate in the Task Team. The CGEs mandate is to observe and monitor and report to Parliament. There is a number of Task Teams that were being monitored and what comes out of those teams.

That Team was to identify policy gaps on good governance; and GBV and sexual harassment issues were tackled by the leaders of the institutions. The Team was mandated to look at policy issues and gaps and come up with a recommendation. The effort was to ensure that there is a policy framework that speaks to all the universities in the country. That Team was disbanded after 12 months and the CGE continued to monitor the implementation of its recommendations and the team can come up with a report on this matter and present it to the Committee.

Ms Maema said that the CGE appeared before the Committee in 2018 and at that point it only had a report that related to other institutions, not the current ones. It also made it clear that there were institutions that were yet to appear before the Commission which were now engaged on in the presentation. Due to budgetary constraints, the CGE cannot look into all institutions at one go.

Follow up work has been done on the institutions, in the 2019/2020 financial year. However, that report has not yet been lodged due to the Covid-19 pandemic. There were instances where some of the policies that the CGE recommended were adopted by some of the institutions. It seems that there is no real movement happening on transformation in some of the institutions, but there are changes in a few.

The GBV Policy is not an advocacy for everyone to do as they pleased. In August 2017, the CGE had an engagement with the previous Deputy Minister; Mr Mdu Manana to ensure that there was a policy guide that was implemented. A Service Provider was even sourced to come up with this policy, and the CGE was invited to engage and contribute towards the formulation of that policy. We need to follow up on this because we still do not have an overarching and overall policy that guides all institutions.

As for the Phendla case, the issues that were blotted out from the report were not affecting the actual recommendation. Hence, the CGE did not fight that battle. For the CGE, the issue was ensuring that recommendations remained in tacked to be in a position to follow through. The Minister had a specific role that was needed to be played. The CGE wrote to the Minister outlining all the issues that the Minister was to follow through on, including charging the Vice Chancellor. It is also concerning that as an institution, we put our report before the Minister and we hoped that the Minister would institute a process or engagement.

Some of the recommendations were implemented with the institution (University of Venda). The CGE also ensured that Professor Phendla was represented in the Labour Court on a pro-bono basis. The Chairperson’s concerns were well received but the CGE also has limitations and there were specific issues that CGE had hoped the Minister would take forward.         

The Chairperson interjected and asked the CEO to respond to the remaining questions in writing.        

The DDG said that the Department will await an invitation by the Committee to provide an update on the pharmaceutical matter.

As for Biovac, the Department has started working on Biovac and it being part of public engagement activities and other initiatives to attract young people.

As for the role played regarding Coronavirus, this is a global initiative and as a country we do not have enough money to invest in the development of the vaccine. However, different countries and companies across the world have now started sharing information and data to fast track the process of developing a vaccine. As soon as the vaccine is found, there will be a need for the manufacturing of doses. This is where Biovac has already identified areas in the manufacturing value chain and take what could be the load for the Continent.

Looking at what other countries have done in their equivalents of Biovacs, they are viewed as strategic assets which mean that one protects them to the best of ones ability. The gap that Biovac fills is that if there is a shortage in vaccines, it can come in to fill in those gaps. There needs to be a commitment in terms of procurement because Biovac should not compete unfairly with global multinational companies for procurement.

On the budget cuts, Biovac does not get funding from government or the department. It is run as a company, there will be considerations to take out credit but as shareholder we get to be part of that and the bulk of its loans have been taken from the Industrial Development Corporation. Budget will only be provided in the form of a research grant.

Dr Makhoana said that Biovac is a South African company which localises the technology received from Pfizer. Vaccine manufacturing is a big task and it takes about five to seven years to license and locally manufacture. We need to have an environment that procures vaccines for that long. No one will set up facilities if the procurement is about two to three years; the procurement needs to be longer than that to enable inward investment.

The Chairperson was pleased with the report provided by Biovac and the Committee will have a discussion with the Department on this.

The Phendla/Mbati case needs all South Africans to be so enraged about what happened. The Committee needs to take a serious stance on this because this cannot be allowed. When survivors or victims of GBV/sexual harassment speak up, they should be protected as much as possible because there is a lot at stake for them. Perhaps the Committee should establish a preliminary inquiry into these allegations because they remained there. The very same perpetrator gets to be appointed again in a powerful position at SMU (Vice-Chancellor). He was appointed during the lockdown when the Committee had an outstanding engagement with the University Council about issues involving governance in that institution. The University Council goes ahead to appoint a person with such serious allegations attached to their name. The Committee will make it public that it will follow up on this.

In the preliminary inquiry that will be conducted by the Committee, the Commission will also be invited to present how it was involved in the whole issue.

The meeting was adjourned.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

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