SMU Vice Chancellor Inquiry day 3

Higher Education, Science and Technology

19 February 2021
Chairperson: Mr P Mapulane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Video: Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology, 19 February 2021     Part 2

17 Feb 2021: SMU Vice Chancellor Inquiry day 2
16 Feb 2021: SMU Vice Chancellor Inquiry day 1
27 Oct 2020: SMU Vice Chancellor inquiry: briefing on analysis of witnesses statements
13 Oct 2020: NACI 2020 Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators Report; SMU Vice Chancellor inquiry: way forward
18 Aug 2020: SMU allegations of poor governance & Vice Chancellor appointment, with Minister and Deputy
17 Jul 2020: SMU Vice Chancellor inquiry preparations; Committee Reports on Adjustment Budgets

The Committee convened on a virtual platform for the third day of the inquiry into the Appointment of Prof P Mbati as Vice Chancellor of Sefako Makgatho University. The Committee heard testimonies from four witnesses, including: Dr C Tshitereke, Former Director: Office of the Vice Chancellor, Univen; Mr T Manenzhe, Former Univen Director of Human Resources; Mr Modiba, Former Univen Student Representative Council President; as well as Mr K Nemadzivhanani. Witnesses detailed their account of events, related to the preeminent issues concerning Prof Mbati.

Testimonies mostly focused on Prof Mbati’s sexual harassment incidents and the failing infrastructure at the university under his administration. Dr Tshitereke also provided the Committee with details of his dismal performance and his role in offering a settlement to Prof Phendla. Mr T Manenzhe testified on infrastructure development projects and gave reason on why the new science building was not safe for occupation. He further discussed the issue of sexual harassment and explained what processed were followed.

Members asked regarding the mismanagement of infrastructure projects, pointing the responsibility squarely to the Vice Chancellor, as he was the accounting officer of the University of Venda. They asked the witnesses what their understanding was on the responsibilities of an accounting officer and what steps should the Vice Chancellor have taken when inefficiencies were identified across divisions of the institution. They also asked whether failed and stalled infrastructure projects hindered or affected the ability of students to adequately perform their academic duties. Has time of Professor Mbati resulted in a growth, or stagnation or decay within the institution?

Members asked when the Univen amended its sexual harassment policy. Was this done during the period when Univen was dealing with Professor Phendla’s case or as a consequence that which the gender equality would have recommended?

Meeting report

Opening Remarks by the Chairperson

The Chairperson opened the virtual meeting, welcoming the Members to the third day of the inquiry. He said that five witnesses are scheduled to testify before the Committee today. The Committee will sit until 13:00 to take a one-hour break. He asked if all witnesses are present on the platform and if the first witness is ready to read his statement into record. He said Committee Members would have a chance to ask questions after each witness has testified. The witnesses for the day were: Dr Tshitereke, Former Director: Office of the Vice-Chancellor, University of Venda (Univen); Mr T Manenzhe, Former Director of Human Resources at Univen; Mr Modiba, Former Student Representative Council (SRC) President of Univen.

Ms Thiloshini Gangen, parliamentary legal advisor, administered the oath to Dr Tshitereke.

Witness one: Dr Clarence Tshitereke

Dr Clarence Tshitereke said that his statement would be cross-referenced with two annexures already submitted to the Committee. The first annexure is annexure A3, titled response to allegations levelled against him. The second will be annexure A5, which is the labour court judgement that was dated 12 October 2017. He gave some background on his role and said he commenced his responsibilities in August 2014 as Director: Office of the Vice-Chancellor and Principal at the University of Venda. He reported directly to the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Univen, Prof Peter Amunga Mbati. Primarily, his responsibilities were to assist the Vice-Chancellor in running the university.

His responsibilities also included attending meetings of the University’s Council and its sub-committees as a resource person and to assist in ensuring the Council/sub-committee decisions are implemented effectively and for associated reports to be submitted to the Vice-Chancellor’s office. He met with the Vice-Chancellor (VC) regularly in the office and they actively discussed any matter pertaining to the University and any assignment that the VC wanted him to do. He had direct access to the Vice Chancellor and could raise any matter that was deemed as important.

He said that he intends to address two matters in relation to Prof Mbati’s fitness to hold the office of Vice-Chancellor and Principal, based on his first-hand experience while working directly with Prof Mbati at Univen. The first matter relates to Professor Mbati’s handling of the allegations of sexual harassment against him made by Prof Thidziambi Phendla. The second matter is with regard to professor Mbati’s mismanagement of infrastructure projects. While the first matter occurred before his appointment, he, however, had conversations with Professor Mbati and also had access to various documents on the matter. He read his statement to the Committee:

Sexual Harassment Matter

1. On 27-28 November 2014, the University of Venda was invited to appear before the Commission for Gender Equality, which was conducting hearings on “Gender Transformation at Higher Education Institutions”. I was part of the University’s team working on producing a presentation to the Commission on Gender Equality and I subsequently formed part of the University’s delegation to the Commission for Gender Equality in Johannesburg. In the course of preparations, my regular updates on the University’s submission to the Commission for Gender Equality to Prof Mbati were met with apprehensions. I could sense his anxieties and reluctance to appear before the Commission for Gender Equality. In fact, he was prepared to delegate one of the Deputy Vice-Chancellors to lead – but I insisted that it was important for him to be there as the Vice-Chancellor.

2. The Office of the Vice-Chancellor and Principal received a report of the Commission for Gender Equality’s Investigation on Prof Thidziambi Phendla’s complaint in early December 2014 [Annexure A1]. It was my primary responsibility to read/study documents or correspondence received by the Office of the Vice-Chancellor & Principal. Often, I would brief the Vice Chancellor accordingly. It was only after reading the report that I understood Prof Mbati’s apprehension towards attending the Commission for Gender Equality’s hearings. For, the Commission for Gender Equality had interviewed Prof Mbati about Prof Phendla’s complaint – and therefore, at the time of the University of Venda’s appearance before the Commission’s Hearings on “Gender Transformation at Higher Education Institutions” the previous month [basically 10 days earlier], the Commission’s report was pending.

3. After studying the report, I did not discuss it with Prof Mbati since it read like a personal matter between Prof Mbati and Prof Phendla, except that the Council and the University of Venda were second and third respondents, respectively. Further, it was clear to me that the Human Resource Directorate will proceed with the implementation of Clause 5.2 of the University’s Sexual Harassment Policy in accordance with the Commission for Gender Equality’s recommendation. I, however, sought and received the University’s Sexual Harassment Policy [Annexure A2] – which was active at the time of Prof Phendla’s complaint. This was for purposes of understanding the policy itself and what Clause 5.2 implied.

4. In early January 2015, there was adverse media coverage of Prof Mbati and allegations of sexual harassment by Prof Phendla, which were obviously of concern to the University in terms of its reputation and brand image. By this time, Prof Mbati was still in Kenya for the Christmas break – but I was in regular contact with him. He either called me or I called him immediately after the media article was published. While the Director for Communications was seized with responding to media enquiries accordingly, I was also receiving calls from journalists seeking comment/clarity directly from Prof Mbati. In our telephonic discussion while Prof Mbati was still in Kenya, he indicated that he would brief me on the story – and on Prof Phendla’s allegations upon his return to South Africa.

5. Upon his return from Kenya in early 2015, Prof Mbati briefed me on Prof Phendla and her “allegations” and gave me two documents in a memory disc. I was meant to read the two documents so that we continue a more focused briefing the following day. The two documents are as follows: “Response to Allegations Levelled Against Me by Prof Tshivhase Phendla” – [Annexure A3]. This document was a draft. Prof Mbati undertook to furnish me with his final submission in response to the “allegations” – which he never did. This document is authentic as it bears his personal handwriting on Pages 3 & 6.

6.  Mr Lavery Modise’s “Report on Outcome of Mediation” [Annexure A4]. Mr Modise was appointed by the University of Venda to mediate alleged sexual harassment by Prof Phendla against Prof Mbati. When we met the following day, Prof Mbati gave a long “negative” speech on Prof Phendla, and it was obvious that this matter was bothering him immensely. I engaged Prof Mbati in his “Response to Allegations levelled Against Me by Prof Tshivhase Phendla” draft document, in which he literally denies every allegation (even though I had read his responses without the benefit of cross-referencing them with the actual allegations. However, the fact that these were allegations of sexual harassment was sufficient. I could sense that he wanted me to be sympathetic to his cause, which I felt was immoral – but I could not do so without clarity on certain aspects of his responses – and to Mr Modise’s report.

7. I pointed it out to Prof Mbati that if one reads his response document without paying attention to allegations of misconduct and subsequent corruption charges to Prof Phendla, one gets the impression that he [Prof Mbati] and Prof Phendla had a romantic relationship of one form or another. This was based on the number of occasions in which Prof Phendla visited his official residence (mostly in the evenings), even though Prof Phendla as Dean of the School of Education never reported directly to Prof Mbati, but to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic – and the number of occasions in which both of them were giving each other lifts and driving together. I found the regularity of Prof Phendla’s visits to Prof Mbati’s official residence rather alarming. I also found the narrative that says Prof Phendla invited herself to the Vice-Chancellor’s residence at best absurd.

8. Since this was a sensitive matter, I needed clarity from Prof Mbati on his understanding of the following statement from Mr Modise’s report: “Be that as it may, having had the opportunity to consult broadly with Mbati and Phendla, I do have a view on the legitimacy or otherwise of Phendla’s complaint.”

9. Prof Mbati confided in me that he did indeed have a romantic relationship with Prof Phendla. Further, he informed me that he also confessed to Mr Modise during their engagement in 2011. I also learned from Prof Mbati that a financial settlement with Prof Phendla was initially proposed during mediation, but the proposal would have had to be approved by Council since the settlement amount exceeded his approval threshold – this was never pursued further.

10. The fact that Prof Mbati was prepared to settle the matter with Prof Phendla financially confirmed to me that there was merit in Prof Phendla’s complaint. This troubled me as I realised that Prof Mbati misrepresented the facts on record in his response to Prof Phendla’s sexual harassment complaint. I was concerned about the potential costs involved in Prof Mbati’s ongoing “defence processes” [for both Mr Modise as mediator and for the Commission for Gender Equality’s investigation] – while he knew he withheld the truth in his response to Prof Phendla’s complaint. However, such wastefulness did not seem to bother him.

11. I noted from various documents that Prof Phendla was summarily dismissed two days before Mr Modise submitted his mediation report. In my view, this was an interesting development designed to ensure that Prof Mbati does not face disciplinary hearing arising from Clause 5.2 of the University of Venda’s Sexual Harassment Policy – since Prof Phendla would no longer be an employee of the University. Professor Mbati knew that the recommendation for Clause 5.2 to be implemented was inevitable, as he was aware that the mediation process did not resolve the matter – and further that the financial settlement had also collapsed. This reality about Prof Mbati troubled me for the following reasons:

11.1 It revealed the extent to which he could be dishonest [in his formal response to allegations of sexual harassment. While he confided in me, his denials remained on record]. The following are examples:

A- In the Labour Court of South Africa Judgement [Annexure A5 – Page 5, Section 11] of in the matter between Prof Mbati and Prof Phendla, [12 October 2017], the following is stated:

“He [Prof Mbati] strenuously disputed allegations of sexual harassment...Following that they had a collegial relationship.”

- But he had conceded to a romantic relationship to Mr Modise in 2011.

- He could not explain to the Commission for Gender Equality the reason for telephone calls he made to Prof Phendla late at night and the messages he sent to her [Annexure A1

– Page 17, Section 8.2]

- He had confided in me that there was a romantic relationship in early 2015 after I engaged him on the frequency of her visits to his official residence. However, in his “Response to Allegations Levelled Against Me by Prof Tshivhase Phendla” – [Annexure A3 – Page 5], he wrote the following:

“As a matter of fact, I have never harboured any notions of an intimate relationship with her as I do not find her attractive in that sense.”

B- Further, in of the Labour Court of South Africa Judgement [Annexure A5 – Page 6, Section 16] in the matter between Prof Mbati and Prof Phendla, [12 October 2017], the following is stated:

“He however denied any dinners at his home”.

- However, in his “Response to Allegations Levelled Against Me by Prof Tshivhase Phendla” – [Annexure A3 – Page 9-10], he wrote the following:

“I have my dinners at around 19:00 and on one or two occasions I invited her to join me as I was already eating (it would have been against my upbringing to continue eating alone with a guest in the house).”

11.2. It revealed the extent to which he could be malicious [in dismissing Prof Phendla for his “self-serving” purposes].

11.3. It revealed the extent to which he could be mean and nasty [in the manner in which he executed his plan to dismiss Prof Phendla].

11.4. While Prof Mbati was effectively the Chief Executive Officer of the University of Venda, it revealed the extent to which he could go in violating INTEGRITY as one of its values – [while he is supposed to be the embodiment and custodian of such institutional values].

11.5. It revealed the extent to which Prof Mbati could have complete disregard in treating the University’s funds as his “never-ending personal reserve” in pursuing his various defences against the sexual harassment accusation – without disclosing formally on record [either to the University’s Council in his response to sexual harassment allegations OR to our courts of law] that he had a relationship with Prof Phendla – which was unethical for various reasons.

11.6. It revealed the University of Venda’s inherent institutional weaknesses in its failure to hold its Vice-Chancellor and Principal to account.

11.7. Rules and regulations could be flaunted on whims and the victim would have “no recourse” within the parameters of the institution. The fact that the University of Venda did not, but could have, implemented Section 5.2 reflected the extent to which institutional malaise was embedded. Further, it would have been impossible for the University of Venda’s Human Resources to pursue its presiding Vice-Chancellor & Principal – unless the latter so desired.

12. However, the implementation of Section 5.2 of the University of Venda’s Sexual Harassment Policy would have meant that Prof Mbati was formally charged for misconduct – and a disciplinary process instituted against him. This would have been embarrassing to Prof Mbati and to the University Council.

13. There is a ridiculous narrative that says that the University of Venda Council cleared Prof Mbati from sexual harassment allegation. Prof Mbati was an employee of the University of Venda and not an employee of Council. The University of Venda Council neither have rules nor policies, prescripts/guidelines, or standard operating procedures for clearing sexual harassment allegations against a Vice-Chancellor. Sexual harassment in the workplace is a labour issue against which Human Resources divisions of institutions are embedded with requisite competencies. The University of Venda Council should be called upon to help Honourable Members understand the process it followed to clear Prof Mbati of sexual harassment allegation, and the rationale for this to have been “done” outside the scope of Section 5.2 of the University’ Sexual Harassment Policy as recommended by:

Mr Modise’s Mediation Report of 04 November 2011 [Annexure A4]

The Commission for Gender Equality Report of 04 December 2014 [Annexure A1] and;

The South Gauteng High Court Order of 30 May 2016 [Annexure A6].

14. There were probative legal costs incurred by the University of Venda and its Council in the course of defending Prof Mbati against sexual harassment complaint over the last nine years (2011-2020). These were personal costs that should have been borne by Prof Mbati. I submit that the University of Venda and its Council flagrantly spent substantial public resources in legal costs running into multi-millions of rands over the period outlined above. This expenditure was at the expense of improvements in the teaching and learning environment of a rural university and all its associated challenges.

MANAGING THE UNIVERSITY OF VENDA’S INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS: 2014-2015

15. Around March 2015, Prof Mbati assigned me two responsibilities. The first was the responsibility to coordinate and be the contact person between the external team of auditors and the Office of the Vice Chancellor & Principal. In this responsibility, I attended weekly or bi-weekly meetings that were preparing audit reports – assisting the external auditors where they needed help, clarity, or further assistance in accessing certain documents/information. The second was to lead a team coordinating inputs from various divisions, edit and produce a composite draft of the 2014 Annual Report. These responsibilities were running concurrently as they fed into each other.

16. During the same period [from March 2015], I was a member of the Project Management Board, whose responsibility was to oversee infrastructure construction progress. This committee was chaired by the Deputy Vice Chancellor: Operations – and it was attended by the Directors for Facilities Management and Finance, both of whom reported to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Operations. I provided timely reports to Prof Mbati arising from meetings of the infrastructure committee [I was able to find one of my reports to the Vice Chancellor for 07 September 2015 – Annexure A7].

17. By virtue of being in the Vice Chancellor’s Office, I also received regular infrastructure audit reports from the Director: Internal Audit and Risk – with whom I worked closely as we were both in the Office of the Vice-Chancellor. In one of the reports [Annexure A8], which audited infrastructure projects for the period 01 June 2013 to 31 July 2014 [I received the report from Prof Mbati two or so weeks after I started in August 2014], it was clear that there were infrastructure management gaps in relation to the following:

- Procedures for contract management not in place

- Services were rendered whilst the service level agreement was not signed

- Commencement of work before contract was signed

- Weaknesses relating to contract variation orders

- Budget monitoring not in place

- University Legal Advisor not involved in contract management

- Contractor management duties and responsibilities not defined

It is necessary for Honourable Members to note that the Directorate: Internal Audit and Risk was subsequently disbanded in the course of 2017 to get rid of the Director with whom I reported directly to the Vice Chancellor and Principal.

18. There were exceptional construction delays in most of the infrastructure projects – and such delays were causing excessive cost overruns. There were also projects whose payments exceeded the original contract price – in some instances by significant percentages. Some of these projects were flagged by the external auditor’s report of audit findings from statutory audit of the University of Venda for the year ended 31 December 2014.

19. There was pressure on me from Prof Mbati to capture progress on infrastructure projects favourably in the 2014 Annual Report narrative. This was contrary to various reports I received and what I was learning from Project Management Board meetings. It was difficult and frustrating to balance objectivity against competing demands for a glossy reading of infrastructure progress in the course of preparing the 2014 Annual Report.

20. The extent of infrastructure construction project irregularities and the values involved, was so overwhelming that on 30 September 2015, the University of Venda management submitted a document to the Joint Bid Adjudication and Finance Committee, which sought to review contracts and variation orders and outlined corrective steps [attached as Annexure A11]. The document reflected the extent of poor or non-existent controls in infrastructure construction value chain. What are of interest were the amounts that required Council approval/endorsement above the original contract prices. This happened after the Bid Adjudication Committee had awarded the contract – and the contractors were on site.

21. The total amount of money already spent that the University Council was requested to approve was R24 226 592.99. Further, there were additional projects that had been undertaken and paid without the necessary Council approval. These projects were signed by the Director of Facilities Management – who did not have the delegated authority in terms of the approved delegation of authority of the University of Venda.

22. The management of construction projects was poor, chaotic, and wasteful at best. This was rather disconcerting to me at the time given the following matters, which I had raised with Prof Mbati directly:

22.1. None of the male student toilets on campus had toilet papers, toilet seats or door locks.

23.2. Students were attending their classes in lecture halls that were not air-conditioned with temperatures often exceeding 40 degrees Celsius in summer.

23.3. There was a total student enrolment of around 14 000 students in 2015 – while the University Library had a total inventory of 22 000 books – which worked out to a maximum of 1.5 books per student, even if one includes the reference section that is not loaned out.

23.4. The University would often cancel classes due to either water shortage while there were boreholes that were not repaired or electricity/power failure while there were generators that were simply not maintained.

23. During the period I worked with Prof Mbati, he seemed oblivious to rampant abuse of resources, with complete disregard to institutional prescripts. This was failure of leadership in an institution, which was faced with immense developmental needs. It was painful to helplessly watch the unmeasured infrastructure expenditure in addition to costs associated with defending Prof Mbati against allegations of sexual harassment. It was painful for me to comprehend Prof Mbati’s defence while I knew he had confided in me that what Prof Phendla’s was claiming was in fact true. My engagements with Prof Mbati over the manner in which these matters were handled fractured our working relationship from January 2015. Following what was increasingly becoming an unbearably toxic workplace, I wrote to the Chairperson of the University of Venda Council requesting his intervention [Annexure 12].

24. Eventually, on 22 October 2015, three months after completing my probation, Prof  Mbati presented me with a deployment offer – out of the Vice Chancellor’s Office to become a Senior Lecture in the School of Human and Social Science with the following conditions [Annexure A13]:

- The offer was valid for 48-hours

- My remuneration package would be capped until such time that it was at a level commensurate with the salary of a Senior Lecture [this could have taken more than ten years]

- The University warrants not subjecting me to any disciplinary proceedings it may have been entitled to in respect of any implausible utterances or conduct that may have occurred since the commencement of your employment till acceptance of this deployment.

25. I rejected the offer and remained in the Vice-Chancellor’s Office for the next six months –October 2015 – April 2016, [the environment was toxic at best].

26. Out of frustration with my refusal to accept the transfer offer, on 18 April 2016 Prof Mbati pushed the joint structures of the University of Venda to delete my portfolio from the Office of the Vice-Chancellor and Principal [Annexure A14, see Page 6] – without prior discussion with me. I anticipated this desperate move based on my observations of how he abused the power of his position in relation to dismissing staff members.

27. I was charged for writing to the Chair of the Audit Committee raising concerns regarding infrastructure construction project irregularities. While I was charged, my case was not heard. Instead, the University offered a settlement – which I was forced to take.

Discussion

Mr T Letsie (ANC) said he would not go into the merits of the sexual harassment case but wanted to know how the sexual harassment policy was implemented at Univen. He asked about the settlement offer of R1.3 million, offered to Prof Phendla during meditation, which initiated this settlement offer and on what basis did the Univen Council discuss this settlement. He also asked if the Univen Council processed Prof Phendla’s complaint properly. Regarding mismanagement of infrastructure projects, the Vice Chancellor was the accounting officer of Univen; he asked what Dr Tshitereke understanding was on the responsibilities of an accounting officer and what steps should the Vice Chancellor have taken when inefficiencies were identified across divisions of the institution. He asked if any of the steps taken by Prof Mbati regarding mismanagement of projects were sufficient and was consequence management implemented against Univen staff involved in the mismanagement of projects. He asked Prof Tshitereke if he believes the mismanagement of projects could have been averted if the Vice Chancellor acted early on these matters as the accounting officer. He asked if the inaction of the Vice Chancellor contributed to the mismanagement of projects and what could have been the reason for his inaction. He asked if it was justifiable for the university to only start investigating mismanagement claims after the Department of Higher Education did an oversight visit.

The Chairperson said that there is no need for Dr Tshitereke to answer the question around Prof Phendla’s dismissal as the labour court has resolved the matter, and there is a law binding judgment in place.

Dr Tshitereke answered and said there were two settlements proposed. The first settlement was proposed during meditation in 2011 and that was before his appointment. Himself and Adv Edward Lambani, Director: Legal Services, Univen, proposed the second settlement in early 2015. The primary reason for this settlement was to stop the university from incurring any further cost over an issue that has not been resolved. There was agreement that the matter should be resolved, and it was presented to Prof Mbati, and he agreed on it. The idea was to save the university from incurring any cost and it was not to try and save Prof Mbati from sexual harassment allegations. The sexual harassment matter was supposed to be dealt with directly by Prof Mbati in his personal capacity. He said the responsibilities of the Vice Chancellor included upholding good governance and institutional values.

He points Members to annexure A8, which was the internal audit report. He said page five of the report shows that it was distributed to Prof Mbati and the audit committee of the university council. This shows that the Vice Chancellor and the university council were aware of these problems for some time. Nothing was done to improve infrastructure management during the time he, Dr Tshitereke, was working at Univen except that management was always ready to get Council’s approval amounts that were irregularly approved by the director of facilities management at Univen. The 2014 audit report highlighted risk and inefficiencies to both the Vice Chancellor and Council and there was no consequence mismanagement. These risks could have been averted much earlier had the Vice Chancellor and Council acted. The primary reason why projects were mismanaged was through budget adjustments and inflating amounts.

The Chairperson asked Members to consider time when asking questions.

Mr S Tambo (EFF) said Dr Tshitereke’s, in his witness statement, he suggested that Prof Mbati was reluctant to appear before the Commission on Gender Equality, which is a Chapter 9 institution. The statement even suggested that Prof Mbati tried to delegate his duties to appear before the Commission to one of his Deputy Vice Chancellors. He asked what suggested this reluctance and if Prof Mbati gave reasons why he did not want to appear in front of the Commission. In October 2017, the Department of Higher Education was alerted; the Univen innovative growth company, which was 100% owned by the university, entered into an agreement with three service providers namely Pure Capital Assets, Black Capital, and Kamohelo Property Development. It was further revealed that Univen did not follow the approved procurement processes and without ministerial approval for private-public partnerships as required by the law. The Department informed Univen that they could not enter into this agreement without following proper processes and they intend to enter into agreement with these service providers never materialised. He asked whether the Department was informed that the two directors of Black Capital were Prof Mbati and Prof Nevhutalu, the former Vice Chancellor of University of Cape Peninsula.

Dr Tshitereke responded that Prof Mbati did not give any explanations as to why he did not want to appear before the Commission. Prof Mbati was also aware that the Commission had a pending report against him which related to the sexual harassment matter and this report was released days after Univen had appeared before the Commission; this might have been the reason he was reluctant to appear before the Commission. He said he did not know anything about Pure Capital but if Prof Mbati were the Vice Chancellor of Univen at the time of this agreement, he would have automatically been precluded because it would be unethical for him to do business with the university and if this happened it would have been against the law.

The Chairperson asked whether Univen had already appointed Dr Tshitereke at the time when the Commission on Gender Equality was investigating allegations against Prof Mbati.

Dr Tshitereke answered no he was not appointed by the Univen at the time and even when he started working for Univen he did not know about the sexual harassment matter. He learned about the sexual harassment allegations when the Commission released its report. He said it is very likely that Prof Mbati was engaging with the Commission as they were investigating sexual harassment matters.

The Chairperson said that he is trying to establish whether the investigation was happening during the time the Commission was having general hearings with Universities in South Africa.

Dr Tshitereke confirmed that this was the case.

Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC) said that she visited Univen in 2020 and can confirm that the infrastructure at the university is in a bad condition. She asked Dr Tshitereke what progress was made regarding infrastructure maintenance and development during his time at Univen. Regarding the two student residences, were any of the steps Dr Tshitereke recommended implemented by Prof Mbati? She said there was a new natural science building at Univen, but it was deemed unsafe for occupation and it was almost on completion and the completion was put on hold. He asked if Dr Tshitereke was at Univen at this time and was management aware while the building was being build that proper building protocols were not followed.

She asked whether the challenges Univen is currently facing as a result of the legacy of Prof Mbati. Is Prof Mbati fit to be the Vice Chancellor of Sefako Makgatho University? She asked what attempts were made by Univen to strengthen the bid adjudication committee and what the nature of relationship between the Univen Council and the Vice Chancellor was.

Ms D Sibiya (ANC) asked whether council was informed that the infrastructure report was misrepresented and is it true that Prof Mbati received a performance bonus for the 2014 academic year.

Dr Tshitereke indicated that there was no progress on infrastructure projects when he arrived and during his tenure at Univen. New projects were approved but no work or maintenance was being done on previous projects. The natural sciences building had cracks and the university tried to mitigate the problems at the time. Prof Mbati was aware of the problems relating to the building and there were a number of reports on the building by facilities management. There was no consequence management, and the cost of the building was in the millions of Rands.

He said that the infrastructure challenges at the university could be blamed on Prof Mbati because he was personally interested and invested in infrastructure projects at Univen. He said Prof Mbati was not fit to hold office; there was a dereliction of duty on Prof Mbati’s side when he was Vice Chancellor of Univen. He said Council was informed that the infrastructure report was misrepresented. Prof Mbati misrepresented his performance assessments. The projects he undertook were of poor quality and overpriced; he did not deserve to receive a bonus.

The Chairperson asked Dr Tshitereke whether it was ethical for the Vice Chancellor to have an intimate relationship with a subordinate and why the Univen Council did not implement the recommendations made by the Commission on Gender Equality. Why did Council not implement the sexual harassment policy that was in place at the time?

Dr Tshitereke said that it was unethical. He said when the commission released its report it had been three years since Prof Phendla left Univen. The Director of Human Resources was primarily responsible for implementing the recommendations made by the Commission. Nothing was required from Council except that human resources needed to implement the sexual harassment policies.

Ms J Mananiso (ANC) asked whether Dr Tshitereke tried to hold Prof Mbati accountable for his mismanagement of various issues.

Dr Tshitereke answered and said Prof Mbati was ruthless and untruthful when confronted with the truth.

The Chairperson thanked Dr Tshitereke for appearing before the Committee today. He asked if the next witness on the platform and ready to testify.

He said that Mr Tshililo Manenzhe was sworn in on the previous day so there was no need to be sworn in again. The Chairperson reminded Mr Manenzhe that he is still under oath and asked him to read his statement from start.

Witness two: Mr Tshililo Manenzhe

Mr Manenzhe read his statement to the Committee:

I agree with the allegations made against Prof Mbati because in my view, the University Council failed to implement its own Sexual Harassment Policy (‘the Policy’) after receiving a report from an independent mediator commissioned by itself; and in summary, the mediator established that there was a prima facie case of sexual harassment perpetrated by Prof Mbati against Prof Phendla; and the mediator submitted his report to Council and by not implementing the report, Council caused gross injustice to the complainant and immense harm to the good image and reputation of the University. Instead of taking appropriate action against the Vice Chancellor, who wasted a lot of University money on litigation to defend himself, Council failed to take action against the Vice Chancellor and Principal in terms of its own Policy on Sexual Harassment; and in accordance with the Policy, Council should have instituted disciplinary proceedings against the Vice Chancellor and Principal ten days after receipt of the mediator's report. In my view, the failure of Council to follow its own policies and procedures was a gross injustice to Prof Phendla, who in a country where sexual harassment in the workplace is rife; she was both the victim of sexual harassment and in addition also lost her job apparently because of this conflict between her and the former Vice Chancellor of the University.

I now make the following submissions, as regards the allegations contained in paragraph (b) above –

Much of my submission will be supported by documentary proof or documents that could be obtained from the archives of the University. I therefore wish to make my submission under the following headings:

Prof Peter Mbati contributed to the mismanagement of Univen in as far as he failed to properly managed infrastructure projects.

  1. (a) It is public knowledge that there are various University infrastructure projects that were not finished due to mismanagement of funds. It is true that Prof Mbati failed to properly manage infrastructure projects. It is on record at the University that the projects, which were not finished, were given to bidders who were told to tender at lower amounts in order for them to be awarded the tenders even though they would not be able to finish the projects. This has resulted in such bidders making requests for variations to get additional funds as the initial tender amounts had huge shortfalls. These bidders were awarded the tenders against the warning and advice of project managers who were appointed by the University to ensure that proper evaluations of bidders are done before tenders are awarded in order to eliminate bidders who do not meet the requirements in order avoid this problem. When this matter was discussed at various fora, including Council, it was alleged that variations amounting to millions of Rands were authorised by the Director of Facilities Management, Mr Hulisani Nesanane. Both Dr Zaaima, who was Deputy Vice Chancellor.

 

  1. Chancellor Operations responsible for infrastructure and the Vice Chancellor and Principal as the Accounting Officer were never called to account. In my view, Council should have taken steps to apply consequence management by calling Prof Mbati to account for this gross mismanagement of university resources. In conclusion on this matter, I was also reliably informed that there is a building, which exists on campus that was constructed without compliance with engineering and built environment requirements that Prof Mbati sanctioned. Prof  Mbati failed to inform Council about this anomaly.

 

  1.  Committed acts of financial misconduct and abused his position for personal gain.

 

  1. (b) Overutilisation of consultants in order to benefit himself.

 

  1. Under his leadership, Prof Mbati used consultants in order to influence the decision to get the desired or intended outcome.

 

  1. In legal matters he used Bowman and Gilflan Attorneys at exorbitant costs to defend cases that the university on the face of it has no prospect of winning. I should hasten to mention that they have never won any case of misconduct that was levelled at almost all the staff members who were charged for misconduct. The Portfolio Committee may wish to obtain records from the University to establish the extent of the University.

 

  1. Money spent towards litigation and payments made to those former employees who won the awards in Labour Court;

 

  1. (c) During his tenure, Prof Mbati used Virtual, a consulting company owned by Dr Tim Hutton, to draft HR reports for submissions that he would like to make to the Human Resources Committee of Council for approval without the involvement of HR Director. This has resulted in conflict because in most cases such reports were based on incorrect information while claiming huge sums of money. I wish to point out that Dr Tim Hutton was never appointed through procurement process. He was involved in the submission transfer the position of Employee Relations Officer from HR to his office. This was to ensure that Prof Mbati would be able to charge those people who disagree with him.

 

  1. Dr Tim Hutton was assigned the responsibility of preparing submission and making recommendations for the adjustment of remuneration packages of executive management and make submission to Executive Remuneration Committee for approval.

 

  1. During his tenure, Prof Mbati was paid performance bonus every year since its inception. Laetoli Consulting Company was used to drive this process and many other projects that the university embark on. The University, making huge financial gains, continuously appointed this company.
  2. Surprisingly, he was being paid performance bonus even though there were many issues that were not properly managed.
  3. Prof Mbati also tried to change the University Statute to allow the extension of his contract for the third. This exercise failed. However, one of the casualties in this process who were dismissed was Mr Bally Makhado.
  4. In my capacity as Director Human Resources, I was also a victim of Prof Mbati’s reign. Laetoli was requested to compile a report that the HR was dysfunctional and therefore called for my dismissal. I was also charged for misconduct based on dubious grounds.
  5. Immediately after Prof Mbati’s assumption of duty Mr Nemadzivhanani and I were investigated by a private investigator that was appointed by the University because we were perceived as threats to Prof Mbati.
  6. I was further the victim of Prof Mbati, who was reluctant to take disciplinary steps for a case of misconduct against Mr Dzaga for allegedly assaulting and verbally abusing me. He went out of his way to appoint a legal practitioner as mediator who wrote a report that requires the two of us to resolve the matter through mediation. I refused because the report was written without my consent and involvement. The legal practitioner was paid an amount in excess of R47 000 for the report.
  7. The above are my written submissions on the various allegations against Prof Mbati. They are within my personal knowledge unless it appears different from the context.

Mr Manenzhe asked whether he could add on what he just read. He wanted to highlight the fact that one of the Deputy Vice Chancellors was fired because the academic programme did not go well in that particular year. However, Prof Mbati still received a performance bonus. The audit committee made adverse findings in 2017 but Prof Mbati still received a performance bonus that year. Human Resources and Council of Univen decided in 2017 that performance bonuses must be stopped because Univen employees became disgruntled on how it was dispersed. The bonuses were favourable awarded to few employees, which Prof Mbati liked. This decision took two years to be implemented because Prof Mbati was against it.

Univen brought an executive vehicle for Prof Mbati and a driver was appointed. Prof Mbati never used this vehicle because he wanted to use his own car so he can submit travel claims. Prof Mbati also awarded certain members of the Univen Council with international trips. These trips were a waste of money and not needed.

When allegations of sexual harassment emerged, Prof Mbati stopped attending committee meetings that he was the chair of. The human resource unit followed the correct procedure when implementing its sexual harassment policy and recommendations made by the CGE. The Univen policy is clear that when dealing with matters relating to the Vice Chancellor it is the responsibility of Council to act and the human resource unit reported the matter to Council asking them to take action. The policy was in place to guide Council on what steps to follow but failed to do so.

He said Prof Mbati was very manipulative and could influence certain members of the Univen Council. He took the IR function and relocated it to his office so he can have more control over matters.

The Chairperson asked what IR means.

Mr Manenzhe explained that it means Industrial Relations Officer, which was the person who dealt with labour relations issues. This person would investigate complaints and gives support to human resources in dealing with employee matters.  Prof Mbati targeted staff that spoke out against him and dismissed them.

The Chairperson asked whether Mr Manenzhe has a list of staff that was targeted, suspended, and subsequently fired by Prof Mbati. He asked for how long Mr Manenzhe was employed by Univen and whether he has human resource director through the period he was employed by Univen.

Mr Manenzhe responded that there is a list of staff submitted with his statement that were unfairly dismissed and won their cases at the CCMA. He was employed by Univen from April 1995 until 31 January 2019; he was human resource director throughout this period. He said there were a lot of attempts to fire or deal with him.

Discussion

Ms Mananiso asked whether the human resources provided support to Prof Phendla and if they failed to provide Prof Phendla with adequate support. She asked if there were there any other issues that were of contention between Mr Manenzhe and Prof Mbati.

Mr Manenzhe said no support was provided because the issue of sexual harassment was running concurrently with the issue of her being charged accepting a bribe of R100 000. This was also not within human resources reach, the perpetrator was the Vice Chancellor, and it was Councils objective to act and provide support to staff aggrieved by the Vice Chancellor. He said that his relationship with Prof Mbati was very strained and was relieved when he retired. Prof Mbati constantly targeted him because he spoke out against him.

Mr Letsie asked Mr Manenzhe’s view on the allegations that Prof Mbati contributed to the mismanagement of infrastructure projects at Univen. He said since there was no consequence management against management. Who was responsible for ensuring management accounts for their inefficiencies?

Mr Manenzhe responded that there was number of unfinished infrastructure projects, the farcicalities director always blamed project managers but the facilities unit pushed for projects to be tendered to companies and service providers that did not have capacity to carry out these projects. Projects could not be finished within the stipulated timeframes.

Ms Mkhatshwa asked when the Univen amended its sexual harassment policy was this done during the period when Univen was dealing with Prof Phendla’s case or as a consequence that which the gender equality would have recommended. She asked Mr Manenzhe if the policy was reviewed regularly to be consistent with the times. She asked whether failed and stalled infrastructure projects hindered or affected the ability of students to adequately perform their academic duties and whether time of Professor Mbati resulted in a growth, or stagnation or decay within the institution.

Mr Manenzhe responded that the tenure of Prof Mbati at Univen could be described as a period of decay within the institution. There was a rampant abuse of resources by Prof Mbati and other management officials who were his friends. The Univen Council also did not fulfil their mandate and always sided with Professor Mbati. He said like all policies were reviewed annually and changed every five years.

Ms Sibiya asked whether there is any matter that was illegal and Univen did not report it to the South African Police Service.

Mr Tambo asked how governance operates at Univen. He asked how Mr Manenzhe retained the post of Director of Human Resources for such a long period was this based on performance. What type of documents did Prof Mbati produce for him to get performance bonuses? He asked whether Prof Mbati should be criminally charged for his actions.

Mr Manenzhe said that the Univen Council was the ultimate body that was responsible for policy and determined how governance structures functioned at Univen. This happens in conjunction with the Senate and university committees to assist it; management job would be to implement the policy objections. There was no performance bonuses before Prof Mbati arrival, and he introduced but it was later released he initiated it for his own benefits. He used it as a tool for staff to side with him and people who liked and supported him were given huge performance bonuses. Cases of misconduct and criminal cases differ.

The Chairperson thanked Mr Manenzhe for his participation and for answering all the questions. He also thanked the Committee secretariat for making arrangements so Mr Manenzhe could appear before the Committee.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting for a one-hour break.

After the one-hour break, the Chairperson greeted everyone and apologised for starting the second half of the inquiry late. He said he had a meeting at 13:00PM that lasted a bit longer than anticipated. He asked if the inquiry could proceed with hearing testimonies. He told Committee Members that they were not doing well on time and asked them to be cognisant of time when asking questions. The inquiry should be done at the latest by 17:00.

The next witness was Mr Victor Modiba, who represented a group of former SRC Members of Univen.

Ms Thiloshini Gangen administered the oath to Mr Victor Modiba.

Witness three: Mr Victor Modiba

Mr Modiba said that although the statement was signed by himself, the contents of this statement emanates from a collective letter written to the Committee on Higher Education on 20 August 2020 and was signed by previous SRC presidents of Univen. He said this submission is entirely in their capacity as the Univen’s former SRC members. He said this statement is a collective statement by former Univen student leaders.

Mr Victor Modiba read the statement to the Committee:

Upon arrival at the University of Venda, Prof Mbati led the university to a strategic goal of being a financially sustainable university, rebranding its insignia and motto as well as publicly taking steps for rooting out of corruption. These have made quick and visible changes within the university since most, if not all fruitless expenditure was cut. We saw the introduction of tip-off anonymous, which was a Deloitte-run whistleblowing platform. This was well advertised across the university in a form of posters as well as having a permanent slot at the Univen communication newsletter, NENDILA as well as the university website. We have verified this to still be true today. During the student parliament, senior managers whose offices were affected will report on the tip-offs that were received and gave updates on the investigations.

1.Fundraising:

Since we arrived at The University of Venda, we started to see fundraising activities advertised in the university newsletter only after the arrival of Prof Mbati. We are careful not to they were not there because they might have been there but not publicly advertised and reported upon. However, under the leadership of Prof Mbati, the University Newsletter was reporting on the funds that the university has raised through fundraising. It was with these funds, in addition to government funding, that the university started to expand its infrastructure.

2.Visible infrastructure development:

Before the arrival of Prof Mbati, Univen was just like most previously disadvantaged universities and relied mostly on government handouts. The university only had few student accommodations and we saw emergency accommodation made of prefabs being established after SRC’s strike. This was followed by massive construction projects that included among the others new lecture halls, renovation of old buildings, new student residences, paving of dusty places, the building of new science laboratories, increase of computer labs and so forth. Honourable chair, one of the changes the student parliament has asked the DVC operations, Dr J Zaaiman, to account upon was the fact that some of these buildings took longer to complete and our worry was that big companies were contracted to construct these buildings. In this specific case, Group 5 was among the companies that were taking time to complete a building and Dr Zaaiman clarified that big companies were subcontracting smaller companies in line with local economic empowerment.

It is important to note that each year Dr Zaaiman presented to the student parliament the status of the construction projects and how much the university was spending. We are happy to submit to your honourable chair that it was through our own proposals that the university distributed tablets to all students and our postgraduates – especially PhD students were borrowed laptops. Without a single match lit and windows broken we asked for the Wi-Fi across the campus and such was done. What you see the universities doing under COVID-inspired blended learning was long done at the University of Venda, under the decisive leadership of Prof Mbati. Because the SRC disagreed with the university from time to time, the SRC once took the university to court over the issue of electricity, it was through that court process that we learned of the plan by the university to roll out standby generators to back-up all campus buildings. Shortly after such public disagreements, indeed the plan was implemented and Univen became the rural-based university that was not affected by load shedding.

3.Purchase of fleet:

Univen had a nursing qualification, which saw our students commuting daily to various hospitals and clinics. This process is probably as old as the qualification itself. The powers that be did not see any reasons none whatsoever to procure transport for these students since it was obviously a costly exercise. But with the leadership of Prof Mbati, we saw the rapid increase of the university fleet including multiple minibuses used primarily by these nursing students. University decreased the reliance on external transport as a result. Perhaps, just perhaps, this has angered those who were financially benefiting from this exercise.

4.Construction of sports facilities:

Univen has been offering a degree in biokinetics, among others. This saw our students having to practice their swimming in a nearby hotel because there was no swimming pool. Our sporting facilities were in shams but with the arrival of Prof Mbati, these were things of the past and we can confirm to you that Univen was constructing its own swimming pool and new sports grounds before we left that institution. Honourable Chairperson, notice how university offered qualifications for years without suitable facilities for students, let alone steps taken to correct such.

5. Attentiveness to all structures:

Prof Mbati did not only listen to us as SRC members, He gave both ears to all university structures. Indeed, not all our proposals were accepted but proposals that were beneficial to teaching, learning and student welfare he delegated his subordinates to attend to them immediately. However, to issues that divided the university, he would seek external interference in a form of independent consultants or auditors. Chair, on a few occasions we asked for certain office bearers to be recused of their duties due to what we viewed as incompetence. Without narrowing this further down to protect the dignity of those who were implicated although they do not deserve it, we would like to state that there was a year wherein exams for certain exit modules were not written because some people did not do their job.

Obviously, without us justifying our call for the dismissal of everyone involved, we strongly believe that this Committee would have asked for the same if you sent your dependants to the university and in their final year, they end up not writing examinations. We called for a strike and asked for an immediate investigation into that issue. Honourable Chair, we did not believe that a university that is dominated by interrelated personnel as well as interpersonal problems that are typical at workplaces could investigate each other and give us as well as those implicated a fair result, hence our determination that all investigations be independent.

I recall that we had a list of employees on our placards that were supposed to have been dismissed according to us. However, a forensic investigation, which we requested narrowed down the number. Honourable Chair, I read this with anger coupled with shamefulness that an educated parent can place the career of students whose parent depended on child grants in jeopardy. We know how some of those students were pushed to prostitution in order to get bread. We knew these students; they stayed with us, attended with us and studied with us. Honourable Chair, there is other information which these employees of Univen, our own parents, had done to these needy students and we would prefer not to place it on record for the benefit of that institution.

In line with the allegations of misusing forensic investigations, does this Committee think it was uncalled for to have an investigation into this mishap of not writing an examination? What should we have done in this regard? Today we are here testifying for a man who aided us in bringing the dignity of the black child instead of testifying on why those implicated former employees should not be employed in any public office. But we are here testifying on behalf of a man who helped our university to be a university of choice. Who have helped our University to be among the top 100 universities globally? “Each time I want to fight for African rights I use only one hand because the other hand is busy trying to keep away Africans who are fighting me” - Benjamin Burombo. Outside the auspice of the SRC, Honourable Chair, the South African students wrote a petition to Prof Mbati and in that petition, they raised that foreign students were given preference over South Africans. Honourable Chair, this issue nearly divided students deeply along the borderlines.

To get to the bottom of it, Prof Mbati appointed investigators who collected evidence across the student population. Being a person of foreign descent, Prof Mbati had no other option of dealing with accusations of preference of foreign students other than appointing South African investigators to look into this matter. Again, we ask honourable chair, is it a true and sober position of this Committee that this was an abuse of consultants? If this were not granted, we, ourselves as members of the SRC then, would have had some doubts about his leadership. We would have believed there is something he is hiding but that was not the case with Prof Mbati. Honourable chair, I truly cannot believe that this Committee gives audience to an allegation that a forensic investigation can be abused by someone in higher office because this Committee will know better that the oversight structures which is the council, SRC and unions are the ones who will request these investigations when the need arises. However, with this kind of leadership of listening to even “unorganised students”, clearly you will agree with us that this is a man who was attentive to all of the structures. We place “unorganised students” in the inverted commas because naturally and procedurally, such petition was supposed to have been brought to the SRC since it was the only recognised mouthpiece of the students.

We had a collective mandate that Univen staff members should do what they were paid to do. Actually, we were annoyed at the visible pattern of the laziness of always telling our students to come after two and as a result, we took a no exception approach in making sure everyone does their work. Although were from destitute backgrounds, we were not a group of fools. We were poor in pockets but not in mind. Although we had our own political differences, when it came to the interests of our students and that of the university, we did not mince our words. This was visible in the type of students’ strikes we led. In popular circumstances, students’ strikes will be accompanied by destruction of property but in our case, because we had the best interest of our institution at heart, when we led a strike, we simply woke up at 5 am in the morning and closed all university entrances. We got all our problems solved without any window broken or smoke seen.

6. Cutting of fruitless expenditure:

The leadership of Prof Mbati has saved the university millions of Rands by cutting off fruitless expenditure. It is imperative that we submit that we only noticed some of these as fruitless as we age. This affected us largely and painfully when they cut our infamous freshers’ ball as well as our yearly tours that each school will undertake with their students. It goes without saying that this caused a lot of turmoil between us the university and the student parliament’s deliberations were dominated by identifying what we deemed as a fruitless expenditure. This placed our relationship with the university management on ice because we believed they are targeting our entertainment and in return student parliament started to put an extra effort into the university expenditure. Perhaps the seriousness of this was seen when the student parliament wanted to know the salary of an intern in the vice chancellor’s office. The parliament was arguing then that that office did not deserve an intern while there is a PA.

7. University of choice:

Although it is not recommended to blow your own trumpet, I am not an ignorant being. Despite such, I did not know about the existence of the University of Venda, although I am from Limpopo. As such when I was in grade twelve, I applied to various universities except for Univen, which I never knew it existed. I would like to believe that this was so because the marketing was very poor or non-existent. Like many others, I ended up walking into Univen and applying and registering as a walk-in. That was in 2006. Honourable Chair, I am please indeed to submit to this Committee that after the arrival of Prof Mbati, until this date, Univen no longer accepted walk-ins. Meaning it was under the leadership of Prof Mbati that Univen transformed itself into a university of choice. We started to see its adverts on the electronic screens at intersections even as far as Mbombela and various newspapers. In 2006 when I joined university of Venda, the University of Venda was 24 years old. A 24 four years old still relied on walk-ins, had no systems in place; students registered per semester, returning students and first entering students all registered at the same time; room allocation was done concurrently with registration; there was no sign of any development; the university was surrounded by virgin land. Chair, the community adjacent to the university itself had no hope over that University.

Is it a coincidence that the arrival of Prof Mbati saw the virgin land outside the university and within the university being developed for student accommodations? Is it a coincidence that when we arrived at Univen we were accommodated at people’s homes because businesspeople did not see a need to build residences despite knowing the university is a permanent institution? Today residences have mushroomed all over Maungani and Ngobela, the adjacent villages to the university. Honourable Chair, the University of Venda was built on land under the custodianship of Tshivhase Royal Counsel.

As such, it did not have a title deed. Honourable Chair, like any other university, University of Venda is dominated by the locals, which are Tshivenda speaking people. Despite this, it took someone born as far as the equator, in Kenya, to come and kick-start the process of University of Venda having to acquire a title deed. That was Prof Mbati. And we thank the leadership of his highness, Vho-Thovhele Tshivhase for playing a crucial role in this regard.

Our children with live to ask questions on how our people, speaking the same language, all having best interests of the university as they naturally should, did not see a need to kick start this process until the arrival of a foreign-born employee whom who we are today hunting down for his head. Clearly, Honourable Chair, he angered us so much that we are willing to leave no stone unturned in tearing down the little dignity our university was starting to have. We do not care because our children can afford to attend previously white universities and stay at classy private accommodation paid for by the same poor parents through remissions of fees. With shame and teary eyes, our children will use the knowledge they acquired from those previously white universities to narrate history on how someone who brought massive development to the local university was hounded about using media and parliamentary structures.

Before the arrival of Prof Mbati, Univen staff members did not want their children anywhere near such university for reasons caused by them. Today a number of them have confidence in their university because the systems are put in place although there is still a lot of work to be done. Indeed, Chair, we have seen Univen increase its PhD graduations under Prof Mbati, although there is still a lot of work to be done for the systems to be completely fit for remote self-service. We know that it takes longer for most of us to get ideological clarity and stop relying on institutions built by whites. Nevertheless, we are happy that this is being recorded so that when the same middle and upper class are fighting for their children to be admitted at that university Solidarity is building, historians can remember this malicious process we are engaged in.

In this vein, Honourable Chair, we hereby submit that the accusation that Prof Mbati overused forensic consultants at the University of Venda will come back to haunt this committee and subsequently our race. Corrupt entities will ascent to the vice chancellor’s office and refuse a need to have forensic investigations into corrupt activities citing this committee. Honourable Chair, and Committee Members, you are politicians and with further political aspirations. The day we view politics as higher than suitably functioning institutions of higher learning closer to us, is the day we would have cemented the current colonial mentality that we should all go to the previously white universities. Perhaps, when we are all retired and are raising our grandkids, we might answer to them on why the two whites who publicly siphoned public funds at the University of Johannesburg were never invited to this Committee, particularly because this Committee should treat all public institutions the same. Honourable Chair and Committee Members, with time you are going to realise you presided over a malicious process, which will obviously have a lasting dent in Univen’s image. It worried us then and it still worries us now that whenever the previously disadvantaged universities are on the media, they are there for wrong reasons. Unfortunately, all this is our doing to our own institutions. Are we saying mismanagement should be swept down the carpet? We are saying fights of personal nature should not drag the institution along.

Those with shallow eyes view this as a platform to attack and subsequently finish this foreign man who came to displace us in our own university, if I can use the tone of some of the whistle blowers. When their eyes open, they will know that this is the attack on the university itself. This is the attack on those families that are making a living from the students at that university. This is the attack on all those international exchange students who first do a desktop search of the South African universities to visit first before they make their decision. It is an attack on the socio-economic activities around that institution.

Above all, Chair, doubting the sanity of Univen council is not only an attack on its members, it is a motion of no confidence to the two vha-Venda Royal councils, as represented by their highnesses, Thovhele Vho-Tshivhase and Thovhele Vho-Masia, who were members of that council. If indeed the university was being mismanaged and council abandoned its oversight, then we can all agree that these two royal councils indeed lost their credibility. Having attended university gatherings and heard his highness Vho Thovhele Tshivhase, outline his vision for that university, we doubt the assertions of the whistle blowers. Chair, it might be important to this Committee to note that one of the complainant to this Committee is a blood relative of Vho Thovhele Tshivhase.

Prof Mbati is not a saint and in no uncertain terms do we present him as such. Indeed, there could have been personal problems incurred between him and some of his subordinates, but to drag the fragile insignia of the University into the mud due to personal squabbles have lasting effects on the university than the intended cause. In accordance with your request in paragraph nine, we found it tricky to comment on the point raised in paragraph 3(b). We can, however, take questions in this regard. Honourable Chair, as a race, let us strive to build our own institutions than to continue to tear them down over differences hoping that we will run to the white built institutions. We call upon this Committee to be impartial in its approach to matters and to remain consistent from university to university. Chair, if there is any an iota of evidence that Prof Mbati and his leadership benefited fraudulently from the construction projects or any other project at the University of Venda, we encourage your honourable office not to hesitate in alerting authorities and let the law take its cause. We call for those who have engaged in illegal activities to be brought to book.

Discussion

The Chairperson said there were some statements made by Mr Modiba that were problematic. He said Mr Modiba’s statement that the Committee’s inquiry is malicious. What part of doing oversight work can be seen as malicious?

Mr Modiba answered, saying that they do not have an objection on the Committee doing oversight work. What they object is matters being discussed were finalised by the courts.

The Chairperson asked which matter was finalised by the courts.

Mr Modiba answered, said the courts concluded the issue around sexual harassment and it is being called sexual harassment in front of the Committee but when it was first reported it was reported as rape. There is an issue of Prof Mbati capturing Univen Council; there was an allegation that Prof Mbati gave brown envelopes to Council Members, which is a false statement.

The Chairperson said that the inquiry was not to establish the merits whether there was sexual harassment or not because there is a court judgment on that. He said this was communicated to all witnesses. This inquiry is not malicious; the Committee is simply carrying out its oversight duty. The Chairperson asked whether Mr Modiba thought the relations between Prof Mbati was ethical.

Mr Modiba responded that it was not ethical. He said there was a submission made to Univen Council by the SRC stating the SRC is against what happened.

Mr T Letsie (ANC) said that evidence before the Committee shows the derelict situation at the Univen; the witness cannot come to the Committee and says this is not true. It is unacceptable that the witness comes to this Committee and makes it seem like Committee Members are stupid. This Committee is not here to enter factional battles with institutions of higher learning. He also asked if Prof Mbati raised funds for infrastructure development. Were those funds used to develop infrastructure? He asked Mr Modiba to give examples.

Mr Modiba answered, saying that the Committee Member did not hear him correctly or has read the statement in haste. He explained that Univen was like any previously disadvantaged university; it relied on grants to finish infrastructure projects. He said he has a problem with how he is being treated by this Committee. The university held fund raisings for infrastructure projects, and accessing archive documents at the university can prove this; there were so many witnesses in front of this Committee that made claims that cannot be proven. The Committee is asking him to prove his claims while other witnesses were not asked the same. He asked why he is being treated differently from other witnesses.

Mr Letsie rebutted that if Mr Modiba cannot answer the questions posed to him, he must say so. No one is being treated differently and the Committee has been asking all witnesses if they can prove their claims.

The Chairperson said Mr Modiba is being evasive; he asked him to only answer the questions posed to him.

Ms Mananiso said Mr Modiba should educate himself on what the work of parliamentary committees entail. She said if Professor Mbati is so ethical, then why were all of these problems happening at Univen during his time.

Mr Modiba responded that he does not know which narrative the Committee wants him to use when answering questions. The community and student leaders can attest on how the campus was before and after Prof Mbati arrived at Univen.

Ms Mkhatshwa said it is hard for Members to ask questions when a witness is being evasive and when the process of oversight is being attacked. This Committee is committed to being objective and unbiased. No can come before this Committee and say that the processes have been unbiased.

She asked when Mr Modiba started studying at Univen and when he was the SRC president. She asked what could have attributed to the various infrastructure problems at Univen.

She asked how many student protest actions were initiated under his tenure as SRC president and what the nature of those protest was. She also asked whether the pool that was constructed a sport or a social pool.

Ms Sibiya said that Professor Mbati’s failure to act on the audit findings was unethical.

She also said that the prioritisation of a social swimming pool over student housing was highly unjust while there is a student housing issue at Univen. She asked Mr Modiba what his views on these are.

Mr Modiba answered, indicating that he joined Univen in 2006 and left in 2015. He was the SRC president in 2009 and served in the SRC for four years. He said there was only one protest and it was around students not writing exams.

He said that he has not seen the swimming pool, but it was built for biokinetics. He said Prof Mbati worked well with the SRC and always supported them. He said he has not seen the audit findings of Univen and cannot comment on that. It is not true that the pool was prioritised.

The Chairperson asked Mr Modiba if Univen Council acted swiftly in dealing with the issue of Prof Phendla.

Mr Modiba responded that he would not know if action was taken swiftly.

The Chairperson said that based on the evidence in front of the Committee and report done by the CGE, Univen Council was reluctant to act on the matter.

Mr Modiba answered and said that he can only comment on other structures of Univen. He has never been a member of Univen’s Council; some of the witnesses that came before the inquiry were untruthful.

The Chairperson thanked Mr Modiba for taking time and engaging with the inquiry. He said because of time the Committee should proceed to the next witness and Members must be cognisant of time. He said it is quite late and will only take one witness; the last witness will be heard next week Tuesday.

Ms Thiloshini Gangen administered the oath to Khuliso Nemadzivhanani.

Witness four: Khuliso Nemadzivhanani

Mr Khuliso Nemadzivhanani read his statement to the Committee:

1. Allegations that Prof Mbati sexually harassed Prof Phendla.

I do not have personal knowledge of the developments that gave rise to this allegation, although the alleged harassment is supposed to have happened before. Prof Mbati unfairly dismissed me. However, I recall an incident that happened at the beginning of 2011, which, with the benefit of hindsight, suggested that something untoward was happening between Prof Mbati and Prof Phendla. I advised Prof Mbati, towards the close of the registration period at the beginning of 2011, that we were short of our enrolment targets for some of the study programmes and that this would affect our expected total enrolment. He directed that we extend a further invitation to potential students, alerting them of study programmes that still had spaces.

I put together an invitation to the media, and ran it by him, and got his approval to proceed. The invitation contained contact details of the relevant deans, which included Prof Phendla. When students and parents started calling to express interest, Prof Phendla wrote an email to the management email group, literally lashing out that the deans’ contact details were given to the public, and that they were being exposed. I was taken aback by this development and told Prof Mbati that Prof Phendla’s conduct was unacceptable and that she should be called to order, to which Prof Mbati did not respond. Later, Prof Mbati informed me that Prof Phendla had diverted her calls to his number, and that his phone was ringing incessantly. I indeed confirmed this to be true.

I then told Prof Mbati that this is unacceptable and that she should be called to account and instructed to stop diverting her calls to him. He did not respond. I then suggested that we should call a meeting of all the deans and explain the rationale for inviting further applications. He said I should convene the meeting and that he and I would address the deans on the matter, which I did. When we went to the meeting, Prof Mbati asked me to address the deans, which I did. He did not say a word at the meeting, and neither did Prof Phendla. It was only while I was wrapping up the discussions that Prof Mbati requested that a dean (without mentioning a name) who diverted their calls to his number should please re-divert them. These developments only made sense after I heard about the alleged relationship between Prof Phendla and Prof Mbati, and the allegations of harassment. I could not find any rationale for Prof Phendla’s dismissal from the University. The allegations of corruption levelled against her were extremely wanting. My opinion is that there was something else, and that the allegations of corruption were an exercise in smoke and mirrors.

2. Prof Mbati’s alleged failure to properly manage infrastructure projects.

These projects were undertaken after my dismissal, and I therefore have no information regarding them.

3. My own dismissal:

Prof Peter Mbati was appointed Vice Chancellor of Univen in 2008. I initially worked very well with him. In 2010, Deloitte did a forensic investigation, after NEHAWU raised issues with the appointment of the Clean Shop, suggesting that there may have been corruption in the appointment of the company. After Prof Mbati received the report, I was charged. I asked to see the report that formed the basis of the charges, but both Prof Mbati and the attorneys that represented the University at the hearing denied the request. However, some of the witnesses against me at the hearing had seen the report. These included Dr Zaaiman, then Deputy Vice Chancellor, and the author of the report. Dr Zaaiman was not even employed by the University when those issues arose. I explained at the hearing that everything I did was with the knowledge, approval and authority, and under the instruction of the Acting Vice Chancellor, Dr James Leatt. Dr Leatt came to the hearing from Cape Town as my witness and confirmed this. I was dismissed in December 2011. I lodged an internal appeal.

The Chairperson of the Appeals Committee, Faith Muthambi, now a Member of Parliament, wrote a report re-instating me to my position. This did not sit well with Prof Mbati. The other two members at an executive committee of council meeting disowned the report; the other two members, confirming the disciplinary hearing finding of dismissal, wrote another report.

Aggrieved by this turn of events, I approached the CCMA. After a hearing of nine days, the CCMA found me not guilty and made an award of reinstatement and backpay in November 2013. Dr Leatt had again travelled at his own expense from Cape Town, where he lives, to the CCMA to give evidence as my witness and confirmed that he indeed made the decisions that I implemented. Prof Mbati rejected this award and decided to review the award with the Labour Court. The Labour Court in 2017 dismissed the award of the CCMA.

I was unhappy with the Labour Court judgment and I successfully appealed it at the Labour Appeal Court in February 2020. By this time Prof Mbati had left Univen, it must be pointed out that the Univen Council attempted to settle in 2015. The committee of three members appointed by Council to settle with me made a submission to Council, after we had had three meetings. The agreement arrived at was for some financial compensation and reinstatement to another position with retention of salary and benefits. I was told that Prof Mbati rejected this and proposed that I be given a one (1) year salary. This was never formally communicated to me, although I would have rejected it anyway.

I can cite a few examples to show that the charges against me were trumped up. To avoid prolixity, I will cite a few instances to show that the charges were baseless and malicious. The full charge sheet can be made available if required. I was charged with recommending the appointment of the Clean Shop to Council. The University could not produce any evidence to back up this charge. This never happened. The decision to appoint was made by Dr Leatt, then Acting Vice Chancellor.

It was alleged that the Legal Advisor advised me against appointing the cleaning company and that I ignored his advice. The Legal Advisor was never called to testify. He apparently told them that if they called him, he would testify that he never advised me. At this point the hearing was in Johannesburg at the Bowman offices. The then Legal advisor stayed in a hotel in Johannesburg for two nights at the University’s expense and ended up not testifying. He was paid for travelling to Johannesburg and for subsistence.

I was charged with shortlisting the cleaning company when I had not done so. The person who shortlisted was a university witness against me and was never charged. I was charged with signing a contract with the cleaning company in charge five when my signature was never on the contract. Other people had signed and witnessed but they were never charged. I was charged for extending the contract with the travel agent, Travel with Flair, when the contract had in fact not expired and could therefore not have been extended. Again, there was no evidence to back this up. I was charged for signing a contract with an upfront payment to a cleaning company against policy and I pointed out that Prof Mbati had himself also signed a contract authorising an upfront payment. It was strange that he could charge me when he himself had done the same thing. The contract that I signed was prepared by the Legal Advisor on the instruction of the Acting Vice Chancellor, and on whose instruction, I signed it. The Legal Advisor number four witnessed the contract without any indication that there was something wrong with it. The Legal Advisor was never charged.

It is my considered opinion that Prof Mbati went to great lengths to get rid of me and that public funds were not spared to ensure that this happens. The case ended in my favour at the Labour Appeal Court in February this year, 2020, after nine years. Nine years of my working life were wasted. The University initially indicated that they were considering appealing to the Constitutional Court, but later indicated that they wanted to pay me. In effecting payment, they drastically reduced what is due to me and continue to refuse to pay what is due to me. It is my reasonable suspicion that millions of Rands were spent on pursuing baseless and malicious charges against staff and that an investigation of expenditure on disciplinary cases like mine would uncover huge fruitless expenditure.

4. Professor Phendla’s dismissal:

My understanding is that Prof Phendla was dismissed for an unstated reason. What is officially peddled is that she was dismissed for her involvement in the appointment of a cleaning company called the Clean Shop. She could not have been involved because she played no role in the appointment. The decision to appoint the Clean Shop was made by Dr James Leatt, the then Acting Vice-Chancellor. I saw a statement (media advisory) by the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology dated 24 August 2020, in which it is stated that ‘the National Prosecuting Authority found that there were no prospects for a successful prosecution and decided not to proceed with the prosecution against Prof Phendla on the alleged charges relating to the tender irregularities.’ This begs the question why the Minister finds it acceptable for Prof Mbati to have proceeded to discipline and dismiss Prof Phendla, when he apparently found it unacceptable that the Council of Univen should be held to have been delinquent in not taking action against Mbati after he was allegedly cleared by the Labour Court.

For ease of reference, I attach, as annexures, relevant pages of the following documents:

-Ms Faith Muthambi’s Univen Appeal Committee report marked KC1.

-The report of the other two members of the Univen Appeal Committee marked KC2.

-Extract from the CCMA award, marked KC3.

-Extract from Labour Court judgment, marked KC4.

-Extract from the Appeal Court judgment, marked KC5.

Discussion

The Chairperson thanked Mr Nemadzivhanani for his coming before the inquiry. He asked Committee Members to take note of time when asking questions. He asked Mr Nemadzivhanani if he believes his suspension and dismal had something to do with Prof Mbati.

Mr Nemadzivhanani confirmed that Prof Mbati was the Chief disciplinary officer and instated untruthful and frivolous charges against him. Prof Mbati also failed to provide him with a complete charge sheet and charges changed all the time. One of the charges was about not completing a form.

Ms Mananiso asked to Mr Nemadzivhanani to define Prof Mbati’s leadership abilities and if he tried to engage with Prof Mbati before approaching the CCMA.

Mr Nemadzivhanani responded that Prof Mbati could not accept opposition or people questioning him. He had a very authoritative manner of leading. He did not accept different opinions on matters and his say was final on matters without discussing it with his fellow colleagues. He said he tried countless times to engage with Prof Mbati, but these discussions were unproductive.

The Chairperson asked if Mr Nemadzivhanani initiated a settlement offer with Council.

Mr Nemadzivhanani indicated that he never initiated a settlement; Univen’s council initiated a settlement that included giving him a job at Univen but not in his previous capacity.

Ms Mkhatshwa asked how procurement processes worked regarding infrastructure development projects. She asked if Prof Mbati is fit to be Vice Chancellor at Sefako Makgatho University and how Prof Mbati handles stakeholder relations.

Mr Nemadzivhanani answered that Prof Mbati does not handle stakeholders’ relations well. Prof Mbati is not fit to hold such office because he has proven at Univen that he lacks the necessary skills to run a university effectively. He also said that the correct procurement processes were not followed and infrastructure development stalled because of poor planning.

The Chairperson said that there is a suggestion that most witnesses that came forward are disgruntled because they did something wrong at the Univen and Prof Mbati had to deal with them because he was against corruption.

Mr Nemadzivhanani noted that Prof Mbati has been saying he is under attack because he exposed corruption but asked what corruption he has exposed. He said some of his former colleagues have been in front of the inquiry and none of them has been convicted for corruption. The allegations that Prof Mbati made are false.

The Chairperson thanked everyone who attended the meeting. He said this is an important inquiry and the inquiry will publish a full report. He said the inquiry would continue in the following week.

The meeting was adjourned.

 

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