SMU Vice Chancellor inquiry: briefing on analysis of witnesses statements

Higher Education, Science and Technology

27 October 2020
Chairperson: Mr P Mapulane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

In a virtual meeting, the Committee received a briefing from its research team on the analysis of the witness statements. This in reference to a Committee inquiry into allegations of sexual harassment against Prof Peter Mbati, allegations of mismanagement of infrastructure projects during his tenure, as well as the process followed in his appointment as VC of Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University (SMU).

There were 15 written submissions from the following witnesses:

  1. Mr Azwindini Victor Mavhidula
  2. Mr Balanganani Lucas Makhado
  3. Dr Reginald Sethole Legoabe
  4. Dr Nyelisani Clarence Tshitereke
  5. Mr J Lekgetha
  6. Mr Khuliso Nemadzivhanani
  7. Mr Lavery Modise
  8. Ms Merissa Van Niekerk: Commission for Gender Equality
  9. Mr Lucky Thekisho: Foundation for Education and Social Justice (FESJA)
  10. Prof Peter Mbati
  11. Prof Xikombiso Mbhenyane
  12. Mr Refilwe Modiba
  13. Ms Shirley Mabusela
  14. Mr Serobi Maja
  15. Mr Tshililo Justice J Manenzhe

Members were satisfied with the analysis given by the research team and took the following resolutions: requesting additional supporting documents from the witnesses that made allegations; conducting an oversight visit to interact with some of the witnesses and ascertain which infrastructure projects were still incomplete; considering inviting more witnesses within the scope of the terms of reference of the inquiry; a detailed breakdown of expenditure on legal costs as well as the most recent cases must be sought.

The Council requested this information from management but it was not submitted; and statements of witnesses that were in contradiction should be invited to interact with Members.

Meeting report

Opening remarks by the Chairperson
The Chairperson opened the virtual meeting, welcoming everyone present and submitted that the research team would take Members through a prepared analysis of the witness statements from which Members would decide how they would choose to proceed with the inquiry. 

In the previous engagement, the Committee approved the terms of reference for the inquiry. Members were all pleased that the inquiry would proceed.

Briefing by the Research Team on the summary of witnesses
Dr A Arendse, Committee Researcher, took Members through the presentation and commenced with the list of witnesses that submitted their written submissions. As per the presentation; there were 15 written submissions from the following witnesses:

  1. Mr Azwindini Victor Mavhidula
  2. Mr Balanganani Lucas Makhado
  3. Dr Reginald Sethole Legoabe
  4. Dr Nyelisani Clarence Tshitereke
  5. Mr J Lekgetha
  6. Mr Khuliso Nemadzivhanani
  7. Mr Lavery Modise
  8. Ms Merissa Van Niekerk: Commission for Gender Equality
  9. Mr Lucky Thekisho: Foundation for Education and Social Justice (FESJA)
  10. Prof. Peter Mbati
  11. Prof. Xikombiso Mbhenyane
  12. Mr Refilwe Modiba
  13. Ms Shirley Mabusela
  14. Mr Serobi Maja
  15. Mr Tshililo Justice J Manenzhe

There are two outstanding statements from the former chairpersons of Council Sub-Committee on Human Resources. Mr Maponya has indicated that he is no longer going to participate in the enquiry given that the issue for discussion has already been resolved through the courts.

Copies of the full witness statements have been circulated to all Members. In order to protect the personal information of witnesses, which was not relevant to the oversight enquiry, Members were requested not to share copies of statements with any third parties.

The purpose of the summary is to provide Members with an extract of all salient information that is relevant to the oversight enquiry. In line with the Terms of Reference (ToR), as adopted by the Committee on 13 October 2020, the summary excludes all information referred to in the witness statements that deal with the merits of the sexual harassment allegation against Prof Mbati and the fairness of Prof Phendla’s dismissal from the University of Venda (Univen). Hence Prof Phendla’s statement will not form part of this summary since it deals with the merits of the sexual harassment allegation.

In some cases, witnesses also provided documentary evidence. Copies of same have been circulated to Members, but as is the case with witness statements, Members are requested not to share the documents with third parties as it may contain personal information. All information utilised in order to draft the final report of the Committee will be made publicly available on request following a process to delete those portions of the documents that are legally protected.

[See document for the witness statements]

The Committee Content Advisor said that after analysing the witness statements, the team realised there were other important aspects of the documentary evidence that need to be considered. In the EXCO minutes of the University on 04 September 2015, it is stated that “a concern was raised that the procurement of University lawyers was not being done through competitive bids and in an open and transparent manner. It was noted that Supply Chain Management Policy provided for a deviation on the basis of urgency and expertise and that applicable threshold had been specified in the Policy.”

The Committee may consider enquiring from the University, though the SCM policy provided for a deviation, whether there could have been instances of abuse of this provision to a point where this could raise concerns. In addition, the Committee may also request the number of lawyers that were procured through deviations and for what cases.
The Committee may need to consider the following as well:
- If the Council did not approve the referral of the CGE review to Court, then why did the EXCO recommended to the Council to give condition to the Task Team to not advise against the withdrawal of the referral?
- Whether the person who referred the CGE review to Court application without the Council’s approval knew that the referral would not be withdrawn.
- The Committee may consider enquiring on the reasons for the Council to be concern with legal costs incurred by the University as well as the reasons why Management was reluctant to provide the report for over 18 months.
- The Committee may also enquire whether the report was finally submitted to the Council and to share the report with the Committee.

Discussion
The Chairperson thanked the research team for the analysis. There will be a need to follow up on either supporting documents or submissions from the University’s council. There might a possibility to invite more witnesses.

He suggested in their submissions or comments, Members should make suggestions for the way forward.

Dr S Thembekwayo (EFF) commended the research team for such a clear analysis. She suggested that witnesses that will be invited to the Committee should bring along supporting documents to their statements.  

Mr T Letsie (ANC) was also very impressed with the presentation from the research team. Before the Committee begins with the inquiry, he suggested that the Committee should perhaps be granted a two-day oversight visit in the University of Venda to ascertain which infrastructure projects were still incomplete.  

More witness statements should be invited if necessary, and a consideration of the oversight visit must be considered.

Ms D Sibiya (ANC) echoed the proposal to visit the University.

Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC) said that when she visited the institution earlier in the year, she felt that there were inconsistencies regarding the submissions of statements in relation to infrastructure projects. She then proposed that the Committee obtained a tallied total cost of legal fees that were incurred by Prof Mbati during the legal proceedings on the issues in question.

The Chairperson said that the Committee then resolved to requesting additional supporting documents from the witnesses that made allegations. Secondly, the Committee agreed to conduct an oversight visit. Thirdly, an oversight visit should be conducted to the University of Venda. The Committee will apply to the House Chairperson and various possible options will be conducted. The purpose of this oversight is to look at the infrastructure projects in the institution.

The Committee must consider inviting more witnesses within the scope of the terms of reference of the inquiry. Also, a detailed breakdown of expenditure on legal costs as well as the most recent cases must be sought. The Council requested this information from management but it was not submitted.

In addition, there were other issues raised in the witness analysis, particularly with the company called Virtual, which was appointed to provide a service on developing human resources policies. This company was alleged to belong to Prof Mbati.

It may be necessary to call the witnesses whose statements contradict each other. The Committee should consider inviting those witnesses to interact with them to provide clarify the contradictions in their statements.  

The meeting was adjourned.
 

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