State of governance: focus on UCT, UNISA & Fort Hare

Higher Education, Science and Innovation

30 August 2023
Chairperson: Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC)
Share this page:

Meeting Summary

Video (Part 1)

Video (Part 2)

The Committee met with the University of Cape Town, the University of Fort Hare, and the University of South Africa to receive briefings on a myriad of matters related to governance, administration and other challenges at these institutions.

The University of Cape Town was asked to respond to concerns related to the departure of the former Vice Chancellor, Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng, and the former Chairperson of the Council, Ms Babalwa Ngonyama. Members needed to understand how that situation had arisen. Though an independent panel was set to conclude its work by September, the work and the scope of the investigation, as well as the revised terms of reference, had been questioned by some stakeholders of the institution, with some claiming that they had never had an opportunity to contribute to the investigation.

Focus areas for the Committee at the University of Fort Hare were the safety and security of staff and students, the alleged irregularities involving qualifications, concerns raised by organised labour unions and students on the state of infrastructure projects, and whether the instability at the university had negatively impacted the academic programme. Concerns relating to the maladministration of academic qualifications were being dealt with by the Special Investigating Unit, as proclaimed by the President. Since then, a number of students who had been irregularly registered had been expelled or suspended.

With regard to the University of South Africa, the Committee sought an update from the Department of Higher Education and Training and the Ministry on the implementation of the Ministerial Task Team recommendations, the independent assessor’s report, and several matters relating to the depleted trust deficit of its labour force. Unisa had taken the assessor’s report to review, and could not comment further on the merits of the case as the matter was before the courts. However, it lamented the fact that if the assessor had granted the university's council an opportunity to respond to some of the allegations, it would not find itself where it was. Some of the allegations were bogus, and the council was fully aware of where they had come from.

The Unisa council had also appealed to the Minister to wait until the court processes had been concluded before he decided whether to place Unisa under administration or not. The council believed it had a strong case. Members requested Unisa to present its information in a manner that inspired confidence by highlighting the past, present and future of the work that had been done so far to respond to the institution’s challenges.

Meeting report

Chairperson's opening comments
The Chairperson welcomed the University of Cape Town (UCT) delegation, and indicated that the meeting would be split into three sessions between UCT, the University of Fort Hare (UFH), and the University of South Africa (Unisa).

As for UCT, concerns about the instability of the council had become prevalent. The sector could not be at ease with losing two women in critical leadership positions. Thus, the Committee needed to understand how the institution arrived here and if due processes were followed in what transpired at UCT.

The Committee had been gravely concerned about the safety and security issues at the University of Fort Hare, with allegations around irregular placements of qualifications and concerns from organised labour and students on the state of the infrastructure buildings and the overall quality of teaching and learning at the institution.

As for Unisa, the Committee had sight of the Ministerial task team (MTT) report, and had sought an update from the Department and the Ministry on the implementation of the MTT recommendations, the independent assessor’s report and a number of matters relating to the depleted trust deficit of its labour force.

There was a need to ensure that the core mandate of the country's institutions was protected. Thus, Members would be concerned greatly about the violence that had transpired in Fort Hare and that trickled into the neighbouring communities.

The Committee had received several emails raising concerns about the safety of those who would share their reflections in today’s meeting. The number of concerns was getting to a point where the Committee could be hindered from getting a true reflection of the institutions. The Committee wanted those who lead the institutions to speak on behalf of the institutions. This could not be allowed, because the Committee wanted those who run the institutions to account. Labour unions must find a way to consolidate and come to present before the Committee as a unit.

To protect those who would be making contributions to the Committee today, the Committee had consulted legal services, which advised that the Committee could invoke provisions of the Powers and Privileges Act, and those who wished to write could be protected under the Protected Information Act. The Committee had also made the Department and Ministry aware of this yesterday.

Parliamentary Legal Services administered the oath to participants who wished to be under oath.

Director General's remarks

Dr Nkosinathi Sishi, Director General, Department of Higher Education Training (DHET), said a strong message would be sent today about the sector that they were united behind, ensuring that the Department protected the academic programmes in their institutions and all that was good in their institutions.

On 14 June, the Ministry and the Department had appeared before the Committee to discuss, amongst others, governance-related matters at UCT based on the council investigation report. There had also been discussions on governance-related matters at Unisa, and the progress in the implementation of the MTT report on the review of Unisa, which included the independent assessor’s report. Lastly, there was an update on the situation at the University of Fort Hare and the University of KwaZulu-Natal. This meeting was in context with that.

Briefing by University of Cape Town

Adv Norman Arendse SC, Interim Chairperson: UCT Council, focused on the first three out of the five areas covered in the presentation. These areas included an overview of the state of the Council and management, a briefing on the circumstances leading to the resignations of the former Vice-Chancellor and Chair of the Council, findings of the report of the independent panel investigating governance challenges at the university, an overview of the state of teaching and learning at the university, and an overview of its finances.

Despite recent challenges, UCT had remained fully functional, with no interruptions.

[See the presentations of the labour unions and the Institutional Forum for details of the briefings]


The Chairperson said there had been ongoing remarks about fees. The report on a comprehensive student funding model was important. She asked about the relationship between the institution and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and what the experience of the students had been, given the new payment method.

Regarding the non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), institutions of higher learning were public institutions. Members did not understand how a person was no longer in the institutions and the wrongdoings were unknown, and thus could not be resolved by the Committee to ensure that a similar trajectory did not transcend to other institutions. This had been a great concern for the Committee.

Challenges relating to load-shedding were noted, and she requested the institution share its mitigating interventions; and a breakdown of A-rated scientists, which was "a lily-white boys’ choir," to understand the breakdown of the scientists, as this would indicate progress on transformation.

There were great concerns about the independent panel’s work. She asked why some of the acting positions existed and this could be submitted in writing.

There was a concern about communication. The Chair of the Council had said there was a late rush of witnesses that had delayed the independent panel’s work.

The independent panel had said that it would conclude its work by the end of September, and imposed a timeframe for the submission to the Committee, which was mid-October.

Mr T Letsie (ANC) pointed out that earlier on there had been the administration of oath to the union representative. He therefore reminded the Council that what labour had uttered in the Committee could not be used against them in the institution. Most councils and chairpersons used their power to make the lives of students and workers a living hell at these institutions. The Committee cautioned that it would not entertain any utterances by labour unions claiming that they were being targeted.

Secondly, was it true that there was a family arrangement between the acting Vice Chancellor and the Registrar, and if the Registrar had been offered a R4 million handshake to leave in a year’s time? If so, he asked the Council to take the Committee into confidence, considering the deficit budget the institution had reported. The delegation of the institution was a white male and old -- was there a transformation perspective or outlook at UCT regarding females, black and young?

Was the term of the council ending in June 2024 for all members of the council, or just some?

The report on the former deputy chairperson of the council who had submitted a review in court to set aside the decision to remove her as deputy chairperson. The reasons why the council took such a decision were not provided. Members wanted to know why she was removed.

Issues in the interim report were outlined on page 11, and claimed that in the meeting the former chairperson of council was present when there was a termination of the former Deputy Vice Chancellor (DVC), and in that same meeting, the VC’s contract was also extended by five years. It further claimed the presence of the former chairperson at the time may have violated the council’s pre-approved policies. Who had raised concerns about the alleged violence? He asked for the council policy that addressed this issue.

On 6 October 2022, the chairperson of the council did not recuse herself from a discussion on a matter in which she had an interest. She had presided over that meeting and voted for the appointment of the independent panel. If so, why did the members of the council allow the meeting to continue when the policies of the institution were being violated? Were the rest of the council members not aware of this conflict of interest? Did the council check with other members if a conflict of interest existed?

Page 13 of the interim report noted that there were other matters that had led to the termination of other executives. Who were these executives, and why were contracts terminated? Was the council aware of these matters and if so, what did it do to intervene? If not, why not?

Mr K Pillay (ANC) asked about the terms of reference for the independent panel’s work. What was the plan for the recommendations of the report, and the council’s programme of action? Who was threatening the release of the interdict of this report? What was the agreement on the departure of the former Vice Chancellor?

If the report found that the VC was responsible for many things, what was the plan, because the VC had left? This made the independent panel’s work a futile exercise.

How was the council planning to improve the financial outcome of the institution and was there an indication of what that plan was? He asked the council to elaborate on the unbudgeted costs that had been identified by the institution.

Regarding the labour unions, what was the legality around the inclusion of a union in the council? It seemed there were no legalities, but as part of the stakeholder of labour, there should be a union representative in the council. What was the composition of the current council?

The union had left out a line on the last slide that stated unions should be part of procurement deals to keep management accountable. How were the unions seeking to keep management accountable by being part of the procurement team?

Had the council resolved to investigate the source of leaks in the media? He also wanted to know about the student who owed R500 000, and how it got to that amount.

Mr S Ngcobo (DA) asked the institution if the council was indeed divided, and how this affected governance and management at the institution. What had the impact of the load-shedding been at the institution, and what was the plan to mitigate the impact?

The institutional forum (IF) had listed the agenda items for 2022/23, and one of the items was in relation to infrastructure for people living with disabilities. Were there any challenges regarding this at the institution, and what was the institution planning to do about them? He asked for information on the support services that the council had.

Ms K Khakhau (DA) was disappointed with the presentation of the institution, as the Committee had been clear on what the presentation must cover. A lot of her questions were based on information that was not included in the presentation.

She felt that the current chairperson was distancing himself from the previous council, even though he had been part of that council. A lot of concerns stemmed from the organisational culture of the institution, and she could not accept a case where a chairperson wanted to pass the baton.

What had happened between 2018 and 2019 in the Ombuds Office, and what had led to the collapsed cooperation within the council, which was praised the year before? What was the information withheld regarding DVC Lange’s availability? She also wanted to know the reasonable steps that were taken to deal with the rifts within the council. How far did the institution go to close those rifts?

What constituted the unfair treatment as outlined on page 43? As for failing to hold the VC accountable, what did that entail? She was also interested to know what a deal struck with the Vice Chancellor had been. If she was a problem at the institution, why was she given "padkos?"

She wanted to know from the Institutional Forum how far it was with the different agendas it had of the policies, and the involvement of stakeholders that it worked with, to form a conclusion of the policy work.

She suggested that institutions of higher learning should be de-politicised, because they were captured by politics frequently and this was evident.

Regarding the senate of the institution and its transformation, it was no secret that the top academics of the institution were white, and who got to be professors and so on. Had UCT gone out for recruitments? Were there people of colour who had applied but did not make the cut? Why did they not make the cut? The same senate that was accused of not being transformed, was the same one that gave a green light to the appointment of the former VC. At what point did the preferred candidate (the former VC) become an unsuitable candidate and reverse the gains of workers at the institution?

Ms C King (DA) welcomed the fact that the independent panel report would be shared with the Committee. There had been a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) signed between the council and the former VC, and it had been alleged that media leaks had become a challenge for the council. The council should look into minimising these media leaks.

She was also concerned about the agreement discussed with the former VC regarding the terms of reference, that her behaviour and conduct should not be mentioned in the report. This was problematic, because it would have provided insight and good practice on what to do in the future with the next vice-chancellor. To get a R12 million handshake and have the audacity to say that one should not be included in the independent panel’s report was very worrisome -- and the independent panel’s work was started by the person in question. What was the cost of the independent panel’s work? Why were there no efforts made to ensure that the Ombudsman reported on the behaviour, and why people were exiting the institution?

Regarding allegations made by the unions, how many contracts were terminated before the end of their term within the past year? Members would like a proper financial idea of what it had cost the institution and give credence to the allegations made by the labour unions.

When it came to labour issues, they were now in an era where the higher institution space was highly politicised and negatively impacted the autonomy of the institution. How many students that were de-funded were affected at UCT? What had been the impact of the accommodation cap of R45 000? NSFAS, at one point, had mentioned that UCT, Wits University and the University of Pretoria could waive the R45 000 cap, and asked whether the institution was afforded that opportunity, and the nature of engagements regarding the cap.

How was the relationship building among the stakeholders at UCT? The inclusion of labour unions in procurement matters would constitute a conflict of interest, and she wanted to know the reasons why labour unions wanted to form part of procurement.

Mr M Shikwambana (EFF) commenced by congratulating the EFF student command for winning elections at the University of the Free State. 13 seats out of 15 was excellent, and indicative of what was coming in the national elections.

Members had expected the students' representative council (SRC) to be present in this meeting. If the institution was functioning well, why would the SRC not be present at such an important engagement? Did the council know why the SRC was not present today? How many students were registered at UCT, and of that number, how many were beneficiaries of NSFAS? The issue of direct payments by NSFAS had been highly contested, but he wanted to know how this impacted the students. Students were protesting silently at UCT currently, but the reasons for such protests were unknown.

Regarding the former VC, one could not have a situation where a gentlemen’s agreement was reached but the public was not made aware of it, when it was taxpayers’ money that was being used. Members wanted to be taken into confidence on this.

There was a doctor who had been expelled for raising issues related to racism at UCT and alleging that there was institutional racism at UCT. This doctor was subsequently dismissed for bringing the name of the institution into disrepute.

There was a student owing a debt of R500 000 to the institution. Where was this student now -- were they attending classes? Students were already struggling with student debt, even with amounts of much less than R500 000. Did UCT have a policy that addressed student debt at the institution? This was a crisis that one could not afford to continue having. What was the relationship between UCT and the NSFAS?

Ms J Mananiso (ANC) noted that UCT’s issues were not confined to two female professors, but involved the gains of democracy and the transformation agenda.

She commenced with the IF, and asked about its programme of action, whether its plans were considered by the council, and whether its recommendations on senior management appointments were adhered to and if not, given any reasons why.

The institution should know that the issue of NSFAS was an extreme headache for everyone.

The fact that a person must take an oath to appear before the Committee and account showed that there were deeper issues occurring at the institution. Thus, this needed a deeper assessment and time granted to each stakeholder and institution to address specific issues that had been highlighted in various platforms and by the Committee.

Leakages of council reports to the media were deliberate, and exposes individual interests of members of the council. What was the council doing to investigate the source of these leaks?

She wanted to know why the labour unions sought to be part of procurement processes and if the labour unions have been extended any hand to form part of the council. She noted that the serious lack of cooperation and partnership of stakeholders in the institution was worrisome. It was concerning that the SRC was not part of this meeting, and it further exposed the state of affairs at the institution.

Lastly, what did the council believe the Department could have done with its interventions at the institution? The Committee should also be invited to the institution to see for itself what the situation was at UCT.

The Chairperson added that what was coming up clearly was that Members did not understand the work of the independent panel and its terms of reference. The process was being questioned. When the Minister first presented the initial terms of reference and the reviewed ones, it was confusing to see the move from how the panel seemed to have been put in place, because the DVC had “unjustly” been removed by the previous VC. It seemed the persons at fault, the VC and chairperson of the council, had since left the institution, and they were here because of them. In the reviewed terms of reference, it was stated that “the conduct of the former VC, which was imputable to the University, provided that the panel shall shoot such evidence…” This indicated that there was already an engagement on the behaviour of the former Vice-Chancellor.

Members were confused about what the objective of the panel was. There were “insufficient” resources, yet they were utilised to sweep issues under the carpet and hope that these mishaps did not recur. They did not understand the perspective of DVC Lange, the views of the former Vice Chancellor and the Chairperson. What was the Committee trying to achieve? The NDA agreement had put it in a difficult position. The independent panel would not have all the components that it needed to be effective so that the institution did not find itself in a similar situation.

A social institution of this nature was bound to be political. Thus, the fact that they were speaking about transforming the institution was a political statement, but they needed to be concerned about toxic and regression politics. The council was political in the manner it conducted its work. Members heard rumours about these issues all the time involving the UCT council.

Members needed to be brought into confidence about the aim of the independent panel. Although they appreciated the political nature of the sector, Members remained concerned about the finances that contributed to the instability at UCT, as money got used for all sorts of things and Members would want to know if the institution had incurred any “illegal” costs – costs that would otherwise not be incurred if the situation was not how it was at UCT now.

Did the SRC attend council meetings? What was the relationship between management and the council? Members also want to understand why organised labour wanted to be included in procurement processes. The Committee had concluded that it needed the report by the end of October, and any delays must be communicated timeously. The Committee had also requested a breakdown of the composition of the council and senior management.

The Chairperson said any outstanding reports must be submitted within seven working days, but she guided management and the council to focus on the work of the independent panel, as it was a controversial issue. The Committee noted that the instability in the Council did not affect the daily functioning of the operations of the institution.


Institutional Forum

(It should be noted that responses from the IF representative were muted due to technical issues with the live-streaming service).

Labour unions

A labour union representative said that at UCT, labour’s core interest was the success of the institution and continued employment of its members. When unions bargained for their members, financial issues were often thrown at them. However, during operational times, tenders tended to be awarded based on questionable quotations. There were also jobs that were not taken through procurement processes. These issues happened often, but were not welcomed. Labour unions simply wanted to be part of the process to prevent any possible misuse of funds.

Secondly, on operations, labour unions had identified a tendency of victimisation. The whistleblower hotline was acknowledged, but colleagues still did not feel safe reporting matters. When people did not receive comforting feedback, they fell back. When unions were involved, it provided comfort to the aggrieved staff member, and would ensure that management provided the necessary feedback.

He concluded that labour unions had not had fruitful discussions with the council. When they met with officials, it was often through management teams, which got their mandate from principals. Labour never met those principals and given the opportunity to engage with them. Some of the demands were largely reasonable, but they never get an opportunity to have those demands heeded or considered by the council.

Unions wanted representation as organised labour for the flow of communication between members and representatives. The mandate must come from the organised staff members, rather than a free-flow presentation or mandate.

Some of these issues had already been ventilated internally. When these demands were answered, they were referred to as statute matters that the university had no control over. They had written to the Minister several times to request engagements on these matters. In other areas, unions were represented, but at the highest decision-making body, the unions were not represented. The council was a political structure. Unions were requesting to be included as a coalition, not as individual unions.

The Chairperson requested the management of the institution to include the costs of the most expensive and cheapest residences at UCT, as well as the specifications of those residences. This could be provided in writing.

Regarding the R45 000 NSFAS cap, the Committee called on all institutions to provide reasons why they were in support or not in support of this cap. However, Universities South Africa (Usaf) had indicated that was the Department’s job. The Committee was perplexed by such a response, considering that Usaf was the voice of the institutions.

The Act was often used to serve individual interests, but if the stakeholders zoomed closely into the Act, they would find that it does address all the issues that were often encountered. Statute issues were at the council level, and the Act supported that, but there could be labour in an organised form as part of the council.

UCT Council

Adv Arendse replied that he could speak firsthand about matters that he was familiar with, as he had been in the council from 2016 to 2018. He was aware of the Ombuds issue, the report, and the issues around it. He was in support of the complaints that had been made, and said that they must be investigated. Matters were debated and deliberated on by the council, and a majority vote had won. The panel would respond to this issue. He was recently contacted by the former ombudsman who indicated that the former VC and chairperson had made some comments about her to the Committee, and she wanted to set the record straight. However, he had asked if this had been raised to the panel and if she had appeared before the panel, which she had. He decided that the matter should be left to those structures to deal with.

The former chairperson had a pending case to have the panel’s report set aside. She had also asked for the report not to be published, and threatened to institute an interdict if it got published. A response must still be provided by the council, and it would oppose such an application.

The former deputy chairperson had also brought a pending court application.

The council had been told that the SRC would be present today. The SRC did have a representative on the council.

He agreed that the union matter was in the statute, but this could be addressed by the Minister. However, workers were represented in the council, but through the unions. They were also represented in the Institutional Forum. The council would call upon the unions to institute a discussion on this.

Mr Malcolm Campbell, Deputy Chairperson: UCT Council, said that both the current Registrar and the Chief Operating Officer (COO) had resigned during the former VC’s tenure. A strong factor cited in the resignations was the breakdown in the relationship with the existing VC at the time, as well as the council’s relationship. When this was reported to the council, the former VC had acceded that there was a serious breakdown in the relationship. After the exit of the former VC, the council had approached both the Registrar and former COO and asked if they would reconsider their resignations, given that the former VC had departed. The COO had opted to not reconsider, but the Registrar had agreed, subject to conditions. Prior to engagements with the Registrar, the former chairperson had recommended to the council the appointment of Professor Dyer Reddy. This was deliberated with the Senate, the Institutional Forum, as well as the Council. The IF and Senate had had reservations, but there was generally overwhelming support, and Prof Reddy had agreed to take the job. During this time, the council was made aware of the fact that Prof Reddy was related to the Registrar as a brother-in-law. The council then constituted a three-person committee that included a member of the council, the IF and the remuneration committee. This committee was the one responsible for deliberations for the re-appointment of the Registrar, and it reported back to the council the terms under which the Registrar would extend his contract. His terms were essentially about the policy on incentives and remuneration. The withdrawal of the resignation by the Registrar was a decision taken by the council unanimously. The current VC, Prof Reddy, played no part in such a decision, and was recused from the meeting.

Secondly, regarding the exit agreement of Prof Phakeng, there was an agreement on public statements. The council had adhered rigidly to that. Another critical part of the agreement was that Prof Phakeng was concerned that the council would not make statements that could cause reputational damage, and the Council had acceded to that. This had a bearing on the terms of reference of the Independent Panel. There was nothing about concealment, but rather the protection of the agreement.

The meeting of 6 October had taken place after the Senate had met, and it had been reported that the information given to the Senate about the circumstances surrounding the departure of DVC Lis Lange was not accurate. By majority decision, the Senate had recommended to the council that a special committee be instituted to investigate such claims. Subsequently, an independent panel was instituted to investigate these issues, but there was a deadlock in the council, where 14 members voted in favour of an internal investigation, while 14 also voted in favour of an external investigation. The deputy chairperson of the council, who chaired the meeting, was requested to place a casting vote, which she placed in favour of an internal investigation. He had then raised the question of whether the former chairperson and the VC had voted on the matter. He had viewed this as a conflict of interest. Members of the audit and risk committee and the chairperson of the faculty of law were consulted on this, and both agreed that there was a conflict of interest.

The former deputy chairperson of the council was then asked to reconsider her casting vote, but after she consulted, she indicated that her casting vote remained as is. Following this, there were already questions about the conduct of the former deputy chairperson. Subsequent meetings took place to overturn 6 October decision to pursue an external committee. The deputy chairperson refused to be recused from the meeting, even though she was conflicted. Two legal opinions also confirmed this. Due to this and the conduct of the deputy chairperson in terms of leading the meetings, a motion of no confidence in the deputy chairperson was proposed and was unanimously accepted, resulting in the removal of the deputy chairperson of the council. Mr Campbell said this was when he got elected as deputy chairperson.

The previous ombudsman's report was dealt with towards the end of the previous council. At the final meeting of the previous council, a resolution could not be reached on how to move forward. It was recommended that the new chair of the council must prioritise this issue. There was a concern about relationships at the executive level, and it was decided a mediator could be brought on board to assist in improving the relationship between the executive, which included Prof Phakeng. He and some members of the council had requested that the issues raised by the ombud were addressed, but that was not acceded to. Facilitators were then appointed to work with the executive team. An interim report from the facilitators was received, but a final report was never submitted. In fact, the interim report was submitted as a final report, where one assessed the scope of the work.

Regarding the terms of reference of the Independent Panel, the initial focus was on whether the council and the Senate were misled by the feedback relating to the circumstances surrounding the resignation of Prof Lange. However, when the exit agreement was concluded with Prof Phakeng, the legal advice received was that the council could not, through the panel’s report, have or publicise any information that implicated Prof Phakeng. The terms of reference were then revised to remove any need for the panel to make any findings against the VC that could have legal implications.

Apart from the exit of the former DVC, the terms of reference were broadened to include general governance issues, to the extent that the VC’s conduct had governance implications.

As for the NDA, numerous personnel had left the institution with NDAs. The requirement of the panel was that when people gave evidence, the NDA provisions would be waived so they could share their experiences fully or give evidence freely. He believed that Prof Phakeng had given evidence to the panel and had had the opportunity to defend herself. The former chairperson had also been requested to give evidence, but she requested a lot of conditions which could not be accepted by the panel.

As for the change in support for the VC’s concern, both the council and the Senate had overwhelming dissenting voices, and voted in favour of her continuing as VC. Generally, in the council, there was strong support for both the chairperson and the VC. However, the situation changed drastically after the meeting on 6 October. A lot of question marks were raised about what may have been disclosed, and there was a change in the support that both Prof Phakeng and the chairperson enjoyed. The resignation of Prof Phakeng and the chairperson was not an outcome of any decision of the council. They took the decisions without any pressure from the council. The only decision taken by the council was on the position of the deputy chairperson.

Lastly, regarding the leaks stemming from the Ombud's report, the media had confidential documents that were appended in the reports. The council had since introduced an app that does not allow the sharing of information. All the media reports never referred to any leaked documents that the reporter had in their possession. Subsequent leaks could have come only from members of the council. The council had been extremely concerned about this, but it had been impossible to identify the source of the leaks. This was a difficult issue that the council was grappling with.

The Chairperson requested the chief financial officer to respond to all questions related to the finances in writing. He asked the delegation to respond to the view that no one had been properly called to participate in the panel.

The Registrar replied that the university had taken steps once the panel was established, to put out a communique twice to the UCT community -- 30 000 students and 5 000 staff members -- to inform them of the panel, its establishment, membership and terms of reference, including invitations for anyone who would speak to the panel. This was still available on the UCT website.

The comment that witness statements went to the panel via the Registrar’s office was not accurate, because it would be tantamount to undermining the principle that the panel was set up to receive statements confidentially.

The Chairperson asked whose email address it was that was part of that communique.

The Registrar said it was to the attorney appointed to support the panel, and the email address was a generic email address linked to Harrogate Attorneys as part of the communication.

The Chairperson asked if the call for submissions had been closed, and when.

Mr Royston Pillay, UCT Registrar, said he did not have this information on hand, but he could check and resubmit the information to the Committee.

The Chairperson hoped that the institutions were open to the support that the Department wanted to provide. The challenge in the sector was resistance to support governance in the name of institutional autonomy, and that could not be accepted. The Committee did not support interference by the Department, but interventions were certainly critical, important and welcomed. The subsidies may not be viewed as much, but it was still a subsidy, and these universities remained public institutions. Thus, the cooperative governance between management, the council and the Department was something Members were not apologetic about.

Dr Marcia Socikwa, Deputy Director-General: University Education, DHET, pointed out that she would have assumed that the council would want organised labour to be part of the council. It served their best interest, so the interpretation to say one should nominate a staff member was not something she anticipated. The Department would therefore engage the council further on this. It was peculiar that the university would not see fit to have a union representative sit on the council. The call for the unions was for information flow, or a sharing of information. This remained an issue that needed to be discussed.

Dr Sishi said that much had emerged from the discussion that required more time to engage, especially around transformation. After assessing the reports from the Institutional Forum and the organised labour union, he felt that there was more work to be done. 

The chairperson of the council made a point about the achievements of UCT, but that came with huge expectations from the Department, particularly in relation to governance. The country's institutions need not be the best in the opinion of the rest of the world, but when it came to internal matters, that very institution was still caught up in interpretations of who must be represented. In a country like South Africa, where everyone had evolved from a difficult history, it was understood how important it was that all voices that mattered in the governance of any institution must be represented. At this level of conversation, there was no place for such issues, particularly if the Department were to hold UCT accountable amongst other “better” institutions.

There were about four or five unions that were organised in UCT. If one understood how trade unions had evolved, one would appreciate that different voices bring important dynamics to the council that could inform further democratisation of the institution. The Department expected much more than what was coming through.

There were also other matters in the recommendations of the trade unions. They were worried that in the procurement processes of the institution, the union representation was also not adequate. Perhaps it was semantics, but the view of the union regarding the function of procurement in any institution was worrying him. However, this could be discussed bilaterally with the union. Amongst the problems, corruption in the sector could not be equated to deal-making, and this was what had come out of the report.

He thanked the chairperson of the UCT council for the presentation, and appreciated how he had nuanced it. It addressed some of the concerns, but a lot more work needed to be done. The DHET expected the council to see its role not only in terms of what the law says it must do, but also in setting higher standards in all areas of governance. To be reduced to the matters presented today reflected a missed opportunity. Further deliberations would be required.

Further discussion

Mr Letsie said he was still confused about why the former VC, the chairperson of the council and the deputy chairperson had left. He requested copies of the minutes where the council had asked the Registrar to recuse himself; the minutes of the council that received the report on the three-member team on the remuneration of the Registrar; the minutes of the meeting of 6 October that agreed to remove the former deputy chairperson; and the two legal opinions that determined that the deputy chairperson was implicated, as well as terms of reference provided to the law firms that provided those opinions.

Ms Khaukhau requested that discussions take place around the discipline within the institution on how it engages with labour unions. A lot was wrong, because it had a history of utilising individuals who used harsh methods of democratic participation in the institution to get their way. She also sought clarity on the decision-making process around how the institution got to withdraw some of the terms of reference. She was wondering whether the decision had been made in the best interests of the institution, and if it had something to hide, therefore being trapped in a situation where one could not get an answer out of an investigation, or the situation was so poor that there was no foresight that this would be a trap. It was a waste of the institutions’ resources and Parliament’s time.

The Chairperson said the information requested by Mr Letsie would hopefully paint a clear picture for everyone, but the problem had started with that NDA. By 30 October, the Committee and UCT would reconvene. The report must include a resolution on the representation of labour in the council. By then, the Committee expected that the council, management, labour unions and the Department to have met to facilitate that resolution. It must be signed by all union chairpersons, the chairperson of the council and the Department. The report must also contain a description of how the engagements had gone.

The Committee recommended that before 30 October, the council must meet with the labour unions and the student leadership.

The Chairperson felt that it was un-African for African communities to unable to engage and find one another. For African people, communicative methods to reach consensus had been in existence, and they must be utilised so that stakeholders could meet each other halfway. She encouraged stakeholders to meet, even over coffee, to bridge gaps between the stakeholders of the institution. It was problematic that colleagues had had a misrepresentation of the VC. The institution could establish a forum or structure to bridge the gaps between the various stakeholders, so they could meet and talk. This would assist UCT in having greater synergy.

Briefing by University of Fort Hare and stakeholders

The Chairperson welcomed the UFH delegation, and indicated that the Committee had noted that there had been concerns that some of the information that colleagues wanted to share in the meeting may be used against them. Therefore, to avoid limiting people’s expression, the Committee had invoked the provisions of the Powers and Privileges Act to protect all stakeholders present. This protection applied to all stakeholders, including management.

She invited stakeholders who felt the need to be sworn in, or to submit concerns in writing through a protective disclosure. Anyone who wished to do so could reach out to the Committee after the meeting, and it would indicate the processes to follow to support that.

The Committee had received a concerning letter from the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU). Their General Secretary (GS) was questioning how Parliament did its work. NEHAWU should feel free to speak to Parliament. The Committee had written to NEHAWU and expected it to write back instead of writing to the GS to write to Parliament. If there were concerns, they should please raise them directly with the Committee. A presentation was received from the National Office, and the information the Committee had was that the presentation was consolidated through interactions with various stakeholders. This concerned the Committee, because Members had expected a presentation directly from NEHAWU to the Committee. If there was a different presentation that came from the branch, she asked NEHAWU to send it to the Committee Secretary, Mr Anele Kabingesi, as that was the presentation that Members would ideally want to interact with. NEHAWU must also indicate if it was only representing NEHAWU, or all organised labour at the institution.

The Committee received the views of all citizens on any matter, and would not disregard the inputs by the national leadership. Parliament must listen to all the people of the country, but the Committee wanted to hear from the branch, because that was who it was interacting with.

Mr Letsie said NEHAWU’s letter that was addressed to the Committee would have been an injustice. The GS of NEHAWU had disrespected Members, and this could not be overlooked. The Committee had interacted with various institutions and requested unions to consolidate their presentation to include all the salient issues of the workers. The GS had written to the Committee basically saying, or implying, that Members did not know what they were doing. He felt that the Committee must address him directly. These matters had never been raised before. but because the GS now had an interest, he had written and disrespected the Committee.

The Committee took workers’ issues seriously at all institutions, and always stood with the workers when they were doing right. If the DG had read that letter, there were several paragraphs that had disrespected how Parliament works. NEHAWU could criticise, but must not disrespect how the Committee does its work.

The Chairperson noted Mr Letsie’s concerns. The Committee would, however, grant the NEHAWU branch an opportunity to speak for itself. Perhaps there was a miscommunication between the branch and the national leadership of NEHAWU.

The Committee had been extremely concerned about the security issues at UFH. She had been present in a meeting with the Minister, students and organised labour earlier in the year, and the former chairperson of the council had painfully lamented how she feared the over-militarisation on campuses. As a former student activist, in 2015/16 she had experienced over-militarisation by police and private security to stop students from protesting. This over-militarisation was protecting the campus from vultures. People must not feel like they were in prison in institutions of higher education and learning.

There were serious concerns about security and safety at UFH, so the Committee had come running. However, the Committee had heard about the distress at the institution via social media. Members would have preferred to have been informed. No one had written to the Committee informing it about the grave issue at the institution. The Committee saw itself as a mouthpiece of the sector. This was the intention of the Committee for UFH as well.

There was an issue about how certain qualifications were being attained. There were also issues on infrastructure, where emails had come through about infrastructure that were not supported. The Committee was aware of the funding challenges for infrastructure in the sector, but the institution must bring Members into its confidence and assure the Committee that the academic programme was protected. Fort Hare was an important institution in South Africa, and the Committee committed itself to supporting the institution and taking it forward. This institution had produced some of the sharpest minds who were economic participants. However, the ploughing back of alumni may not always be monetary, and though this was also welcomed and needed, these minds could assist in dealing with the strategic issues that must be addressed. Such minds needed to help the institution through this difficult time. Was UFH reaching out to that cohort of alumni?

University of Fort Hare

Professor Lungisile Ntsebeza, Chairperson: UFH Council, commented on how much the institution needed the Committee’s support. He reflected on his own experience on safety issues at the university. When he wrote with excitement, informing his people about his new appointment, he was asked if he was stupid for taking up such a gargantuan risk by being chairperson of the UFH council. He had been asked if he had bodyguards for taking this job. This gave him an idea of what he would be dealing with in the position. However, he believes that there was a job to be done at the university. UFH was an institution with a very rich history and was positioned to address the de-colonisation problem the country faced. He always argued that the UFH was in a better place to lead the struggle for transformation than any institution in the country. If one was to fear criminals and murderers, this country would hit the dust. Some of them had dodged the death bullets of the apartheid regime because they felt that this country had a bright future, and that some of them must sacrifice to attain that.

The institution had prepared a presentation that was based on the initial communique from the Committee.

[See the presentations of stakeholders attached for details]

(The live stream of the meeting was cut off due to load-shedding in Parliament, and came back up during the discussion.)


Mr B Yabo (ANC) said that since the end of the period under administration was at the end of 2020, before December, they were still within the three-year window of regular scrutiny, and the reasons had been provided to assist the university to reach stability, after the period of administration. Thus, the matter of being held accountable with regular scrutiny was in the recommendation of the independent assessor provided to the Department.

The independent assessor would have identified the situation as undermining human dignity and equality. As for infrastructure, ablution facilities were also noted in the report. How far was the institution now in implementing these recommendations? The UFH needed to focus on the infrastructure that already exists to bring it up to human standards. The report itself noted that the university should not be ashamed of its ablution facilities.

Had the council renewed its mandate and resolved the question of the chair of the audit and risk committee, or was the challenge persisting?

The independent assessor seemed to have picked up that despite the project of rebuilding staff morale, it remained quite low at UFH. Was there a programme by the management and the council to address this issue? Threats to lives had been made, and in an environment where the threat to life was real, this would dampen the morale of the staff. What was the impact of this in relation to the performance of staff members, and how did it translate to the outcomes of the academic programme? There seemed to be an issue around the pass rate of the University -- what could be the causes of the declining pass rate? Within the context of security threats, what were the targets that motivated the threat of killings?

He concluded that as part of the institutional turnaround plan, management should formulate and implement a physical infrastructure maintenance policy. How far was the management in doing this in relation to all noted areas in the report?

Mr Ngcobo asked about security in student residences, and if criminal activities had been experienced. What measures had been put in place to mitigate these threats? Secondly, on the shuttle services provided by the university, the SRC had requested management to increase the number of buses to transport students -- had management had acceded to this request?

The Chairperson noted that a lot of questions asked for detail, numbers and plans, that the institution had to turn the tide in specific areas highlighted by Members. This information had to come in detail, not as a high-level summary.

Members had always been aware of the daily challenges of the institution, but what scared them was what looked like political instability after the administration period. Their greatest concern was whether all the stakeholders of the university were safe to raise their issues. Work must continue to restore the glory of the University of Fort Hare.


Institutional Forum

Dr Ellen Rungani, Deputy Chairperson of the IF, appreciated that the challenges of the institution had accumulated over the years, but great strides had been made. Many policies had now been developed at UFH, as well as standard operating procedures reflecting the significant progress made so far.

Labour Unions

Mr N Tyayo, NEHAWU representative, said that labour unions had no platforms to engage with the management, except in the bargaining unit. An agreement had recently been concluded between management and organised labour, but there should be other managerial forums that should cover other aspects of the institution that organised labour should be part of.

Regarding the unions' involvement in the supply chain management (SCM) processes, they were merely requesting free-flowing communication to know what the major projects or plans were for UFH. Regarding the safety of the workers, there were wellness programmes at the institution which assisted significantly, but when the crime of murder occurred, it brought shocking alarm and panic.


Ms Siphokazi Mbalo, President of the UFH SRC, said the reason why the student body had highlighted the exclusion in special exams was because it had identified that there was a gap between the institution and the students on exclusions, and when students qualified for a special exam. The SRC had developed a programme on academic exclusion awareness, and all faculties had been called to read out the prospectus and rules to bring awareness to students, so that they could avoid exclusions as well as qualifications for special exams.

The SRC had concerns about the slow intake of postgraduate students. It had taken her about two months for her status to change. The low rate of the response of the institution to the applications of post-graduates may be the root cause of this.

The number of students that had been defended so far was 1 046. Accommodation challenges have been raised, including those from students that were negatively affected by the hailstorm that happened in 2021, and there had been a low response from the insurance company that was supposed to renovate.

As for the council representation, there was a Mr Dumisani Pepe in the council who was always introduced as a non-academic staff and a union representative. She was not sure who this person represented though.

The SRC did receive the MTT report, but it had felt that it was a ‘by-the-way’ exercise, because the report was given in the morning and the SRC had been expected to make comments and submit them within two days. This was unfair, because it was a huge document and the SRC still needed to consult with its constituents, so it did not serve the purpose.

The SRC hosted community outreach programmes and on June 16, crops from the agriculture faculty were donated to old age homes in Alice. The SRC was now working with student affairs collecting clothes and food to donate to orphanages.

University of Fort Hare management

Professor Sakhela Buhlungu, Vice-Chancellor, UFH, said that the non-residence capping of fees was at R45 000, but in Alice, the lowest bed rate was charged at R28 420, and the highest was at R42 420. In East London, the lowest was at R35 000, and the highest was at R42 000. 

Regarding the Early Childhood Development (ECD) Centre, this building was going up, but in 2017 the contractor had gone bankrupt. This project was now back on track. The timeframe to finish the project was about 12 months from now.

As for the fake qualifications, the Senate had de-registered 17 students because they were irregularly registered – they did not meet the requirements of the qualifications for which they were recorded. Independently, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) had identified people going back to 2005.

The question in relation to the Eastern Cape Premier, Mr Oscar Mabuyane, was within the SIU. Mr Mabuyane had challenged the jurisdiction of the SIU, and had secured an interdict against it. However, the SIU was remedying that situation following what the judge had recommended to amend the proclamation. The UFH had received a letter last week, stating that the SIU would complete its work in April 2024. The SIU did not report to the UFH. However, it may share the highlights of its interim report with the institution if necessary.

The issues raised by Mr Letsie had recently been presented to the council and after discussion, the tone had changed, and certain things had been pointed out. The Minister had requested that they submit written replies, and these had been submitted to the Department and the Minister. There were 38 questions that were responded to, and the responses were in considerable detail.

The independent assessor's work had three stages. These were the report that contained the recommendations, the handing over of the recommendations to the administrator, and the administrator's proposal to the Minister as to which recommendations should be accepted and which ones were onerous or duplicated. The Minister had undertaken the exercise to accept certain recommendations.

He did not know of specific students who were suspended at the institution, except for the 13 who were caught trying to torch the sports complex.

It was people who sat in certain strategic positions who seemed to be obstacles. It would assist if the next interaction was in Alice, where one could do a walk-about to see the challenges that the institution faced. Some of the issues and questions by Members would be dispelled quickly.

As for the safety of students in residences, the institution had introduced 57 security members. With the new student village, more security had also been added.

The shuttle service was not for people who wanted to go to private residences, but to student residences and other institution-related activities.

Mr Charles Matumba, Chief Financial Officer (CFO), UFH, said the contract value of the ECD Centre was R46 million, and was approved by the council. The student debt by the end of June 2023 was above R1.5 billion. The institution was reviewing various initiatives to recover those funds. There was now an approved debt management policy. This policy was approved by the council in June 2022. One of the interventions was to actively follow up with the students who owed the institution, and UFH had since appointed three debt management companies to assist in the collection of these funds. One of the contributors to the rising debt was the financial concessions that were often granted to students during the registration period.

All other details pertaining to numbers and finances would be submitted to the Committee in writing.

Prof Ntsebeza acknowledged the positive responses that had come from Members, and this was encouraging. He would not be defensive, but would absorb what had been said. However, he would also insist on people providing evidence to substantiate their claims. UFH was an academic institution that had set rules, and the key among these rules was the principle of being reasonable, which meant that one could not make claims without submitting evidence to substantiate them.

He had been the chairperson of the council since June 2023, although he had been a member since the end of 2022, when it was founded. When he read the reports, he had realised that the situation was challenging, but he knew that tackling it would require taking one step at a time. Looking back at the end of 2022 and the current state of the institution, he had no reason to believe that there was any political instability or fragility at UFH.

The first meeting he presided over as chairperson of the council was a governance workshop. There were no issues with finishing the agenda within the prescribed time. However, what became clear was that there was no agreement on the ‘rules of engagement.’ Thus, the workshop held two weeks ago had offered an opportunity to revisit these rules of engagement. The first step was to find out which rules were in place, and research on this was undertaken on the law and the institution’s policies. This had resulted in a two-page document that gave an idea of what was in place. The council had discovered that the policies of the institution needed revision and improvement. At the end of this exercise would be a handbook on how stakeholders should engage with one another.

During the workshop, several issues came up which would be used to inform the council's document. One of the issues discussed was the disconcerting ease with which some council members write to the Minister without consulting the rest of the council. Many letters had been sent by some members of the council to the Minister without bringing up the issues in council meetings. This was a serious concern that the council aimed to address. The issue would be included in the agenda for the upcoming council meeting.

The other issue that must be addressed was the dialectical relationship between the council members and management and oversight. This was not an easy matter to resolve, but it was often debated in council. Lastly, he invited Members to go to Alice and interact with the institution there.

The Chairperson commended Prof Ntlemeza for taking bold steps to address the challenges facing the country. She also acknowledged the Vice Chancellor's comment that there had been no student protests since 2022. However, she expressed her hope that this was not due to fear or intimidation, but rather as a result of improved stakeholder management and coordination.

Everyone could surely agree that the sector could not afford to be spending so much money on security. The work that the Minister of Police was doing with the National Task Team with the unfolding investigations, was beginning to yield positive results. She resolved that by the end of the year, the Committee should have received a report or a plan from UFH on de-militarising the campus.

It was clear that the SIU had been attending to the issue of questionable qualifications, as seen in the presentation of those who were excluded and deregistered.

The interventions of the Community Police Forum (CPF) were also welcomed. A detailed report, or the plan of the objective of the CPF, must be submitted in writing. The clean audit outcomes were welcomed, but she asked that UFH share the reports that supported the audit outcome.

The Committee was scheduled to meet with NSFAS next week, and was looking forward to receiving a detailed briefing. The concept of direct payments was a cause for concern, but it was not entirely misplaced, and in fact, it was necessary. However, the implementation of this concept had not gone as planned, leading to difficulties within the sector.

She noted that the relationship between management and the SRC was "okay". However, this was not the case with organised labour. The Committee had received numerous reports from the labour force, which was alarming. Therefore, it was imperative that both management and the council address this issue promptly. People had been afraid to attend the meeting, which highlighted the severity of the situation.

She requested the UFH to submit in writing a breakdown of infrastructure projects to include how much had been spent so far -- the budget, timelines, and reasons for any delays. The VC had mentioned earlier that there were people who stifled progress at the institution for their own interests – the “cookie jar” was the infrastructure projects. This had a direct impact on the teaching and learning programme, and thus they could not maintain their lecture halls, residences, etc. The impact of infrastructure for the sector was massive, and went beyond to the health and safety of the students. The delays on infrastructural projects must feed into the work that the task team and the Minister of Police were doing.

All questions that were not responded to due to time constraints must be submitted in writing within seven working days. This must include all the salient issues that Mr Letsie had raised and asked.

Everyone needed to play their part. The SRC had some executive power, and must hold management to account. Organised labour contributed to the functioning of the institution, but it also had a right to hold others in the institution to account. This applied to all stakeholders. Stakeholders felt that it was hard to govern cooperatively with the management of the institution. There was a need to get to the crux of why stakeholders felt this way.

DHET's response

Dr Sishi confirmed that the UFH had submitted its turnaround plans in terms of the agreement between the Minister and the council. Most of the issues that Members had raised today were covered in the responses of the university to the Minister. The Department was prepared to work with its institutions. The reason why there was consensus on the turnaround plan was to avoid the blurring of government responsibilities at a time of the new council and an oversight team that must report to the Department.

The Minister had received correspondence from the Convocation President, and had immediately informed the council about it. One of the issues mentioned in the letter was the alleged failure to involve the alumni community in addressing the fraudulent admission and qualification scandals. This issue affected not only brand management but also remained unresolved in the public domain, despite the responses to the Minister. It was essential to work together to ensure that such matters were resolved in the public domain as well. In light of the recent death of the VC's bodyguard, he welcomed the responsibility taken by the management and council.

Highlighting the role of the Minister, he pointed out that the Minister reported to the President, and if any matter in the sector had to be elevated to the Presidency, it was important as a courtesy to inform the Minister as well, even if he was not part of the decision-making on that issue. One must respect the positions that people occupy, as well as the individuals who occupy these critical positions.

The Minister of Higher Education in South Africa who established this Department was the first Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Education in democratic South Africa. Almost half the policies that run education today went through him as the first chairperson. Whether one likes him or not, he was the Minister, and should be afforded the respect he deserves. If one differs from the Minister, one knows that there would never be an issue, because he understands the sector that he works in.

He welcomed the women-led leadership of the SRC. He was also encouraged by the issues that they had tabled.

He said university councils must recognise that organised labour represents a critical constituency. The way the sector or councils attend to issues of representation was not correct. 

Chairperson's comments

The Chairperson lamented the limited time available for the Committee to conduct oversight. The Committee no longer had Fridays to sit. They had been removed because of the plenary sessions.  The programme was stringent and did not afford sufficient time for the work required.

Regarding the leaked documents, these had now been made public and an article had since been published last night, citing those documents as sources. She deplored the leak of the documents.

The Committee expected Fort Hare’s de-militarisation plan by the end of the year, and all responses and reports within the next seven working days.

University of South Africa

Mr James Maboa, Chairperson of the Unisa Council, took Members through the governance-related matters. He touched on vacancies, the composition of the board and an overview of governance in Unisa. He also highlighted how the council had responded in relation to the independent assessor’s report, which the council had taken to legal review. The council did not agree with certain findings and recommendations, and had since responded in court papers and to the Minister. The council had also been requested to brief the Committee on several allegations against management. Some of these issues formed part of the legal response. Most of the reports quoted widely were council-initiated reports, including the issue of the house, the Bowman’s Report and others. What was important to highlight was that the council was not absent, and had demonstrated that it had the intention to hold people accountable.

He could not dive deeply into the issues, as some matters were subject to court processes. The council did not get an opportunity to respond to the independent assessor’s investigation. It would have assisted if an opportunity had been granted. The council had further highlighted issues that were not even reported on. Even with the issue of the curtains that were said to have cost R280 000, if the independent assessor had afforded the council an opportunity to respond, he would have realised that there was no such thing, because the board had investigated and there was no invoice or proof of payment that supported the allegation. However, the board was now aware of where that allegation had stemmed from.

Regarding the issue of laptops, the management committee (MANCO) had taken a resolution that stated that Unisa was renting laptops costing up to R400 million. There had been delays in the procurement processes because of the lack of tools of trade of employees. MANCO had resolved to give staff members R27 000 each, which cost Unisa R70 million. MANCO had taken a decision that had hit Unisa’s coffers with R300 million, but this was not a negative.

If the council had had an opportunity to respond, Unisa would not find itself here.

Lastly, the council’s response to the Minister’s intention to place Unisa under administration was submitted on 4 August. It had also requested the Minister to allow the court to make its ruling on the IA report before he made his final decision. The council was of the view that it had a strong case and was merely asking the Minister to allow the court process to conclude before he decided. Placing Unisa under administration would negatively impact its reputation, and the Minister should note that the composition of the council had changed drastically since the IA’s time.

[See the attached stakeholder presentations for the briefings of the SRC, organised labour, the Black Forum and the Institutional Forum]


The Chairperson welcomed the presentation by Unisa and its stakeholders. She had hoped that the management of Unisa would have been juxtaposed between the MTT recommendations and what Unisa would have implemented. She felt that the brief was not organised.

Regarding slide seven, the registration data by age was incomplete, as it showed figures only for ages between 21 and 30. This data should include 18-year-olds who enrol and register at Unisa. The findings of the MTT suggested that Unisa was admitting fresh matriculants, and it was not solely the institution's responsibility. It highlighted a crisis within the sector that required further discussion. There was a need to consider if there were institutions that were under-enrolling in the sector. The presentation did not clearly outline the response to the MTT findings that suggest Unisa went beyond its scope.

Unisa was required to present to the Committee the state of its ICT capacity before the MTT, and how it had been improved following the MTT's findings and recommendations. The Committee felt that Unisa was not providing sufficient details. While all other stakeholders were expressing that management and the council needed to do more, there was no evidence of how the ICT infrastructure had been enhanced.

She was perplexed about the issue of the curtains. By the time the independent assessor had commenced work at Unisa, the curtains issue should have been clarified.

The organised labour groups had expressed their concerns about victimisation within the institution. All the labour unions in Unisa had similar complaints on this matter. It would be helpful to have access to the meeting minutes to avoid misunderstandings or unnecessary conflicts regarding the proceedings. All stakeholders had shared their opinions during the discussions, but having the minutes would allow the assessment of the underlying causes of instability among stakeholders in the institution.

She stressed the lack of coordination and collaboration amongst the stakeholders at Unisa. She was also perplexed by all the issues that were raised by them. The SRC had provided some recommendations, and there was no reason why those recommendations could not be heeded by the management and the council.

The MTT report had recommended that forensic expertise should be brought in to assess the issues about the laptops, the curtains, and other salient matters. Had this recommendation been implemented by the management?

Mr Ngcobo pointed out the SRC had raised concerns about the infrastructure, and that facilities were outdated and not accommodative of students living with disabilities. What measures had been taken by management to resolve this, as this had led to dropouts? Secondly, NEHAWU had indicated that there was victimisation of staff at Unisa and no engagements between the unions and management, and that they engage only through the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). What were the reasons for this? Thirdly, NEHAWU also indicated that there was a politicised human resource department at Unisa, and he wanted to know why this was the case. NEHAWU must clearly outline its reasons for making this statement.

Mr Yabo expressed his discontent that some of the issues mentioned were pending court processes. Issues raised by the SRC regarding the capacity of the university to remodel itself were critical. The registration chart reflected a change in the age cohort that made up the bulk of those registered with the university. Most of the student cohort were females, and this should inform the direction the institution needed to take regarding the protection required for this cohort.

The incapacity of the ICT environment emphasised the importance of strengthening this capacity. During periods of assignment submissions, the system often failed or crashes.

He felt that the IA’s report raised important issues like a “gossip column,” as no substantive evidence supported such findings or recommendations. It was as if the reader had to conclude themselves who was guilty and who was not.

The university was also very silent on salient issues. When issues broke out publicly, the university stayed mum and never responded to important issues, as if it did not have a spokesperson. Were there incapacities in communication at Unisa?

Unisa must inform the Committee about its plans to address its ICT shortcomings, and remodel the institution to accommodate the new demographics of the institution.

Mr Letsie wanted to know what the "politicised" human resources at the institution meant. He also asked the council to share the responses submitted to the Minister on some of the issues that had come up.

Regarding the victimisation of staff, the Unisa management should treat the staff of the institution as service delivery champions. He urged the institution to sit and engage its workers.

Last year, on two separate occasions, NEHAWU at Unisa had disrupted graduation ceremonies. He had hoped that NEHAWU would also come out and admit to its mishaps and destabilisation at Unisa. Many of these students, most of them black from poor backgrounds and first-time graduates in their families, had been subjected to such treatment. Many of them who were graduating had their families travelling from afar to attend these graduation ceremonies. NEHAWU lacked the appreciation of the impact such disruptions had on black children. NEHAWU did not take any accountability at all. Some of the students had sent Members voice notes of NEHAWU leaders threatening rape to the staff of the university, saying they would pay Nyaope addicts to rape those women who were going to work, as if gender-based violence (GBV) was a joke in this country. This was not acceptable, and it would not be accepted. South Africa's institutions could not be run this way.

He recommended further engagements between the DHET and the independent assessor. He differed on how the IA had arrived at some of the findings and recommendations. Furthermore, there was a report of 620 vacancies at Unisa, and he asked the management to provide details of these vacancies. The success of the University depended on how it communicates its successes, and he felt that Unisa had a “Jantjies” (the sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s funeral) as a spokesperson. As the biggest university on the continent, Unisa lacked communication services. Members become aware of Unisa’s events only when President Mbeki was attending. He felt the institution was riding on the back of President Mbeki at this point.

Ms Mananiso asked about the AI’s recommendations, and if these were being implemented by the management and the council. Secondly, the issue of victimisation was destroying Unisa, so addressing the stakeholder relations shortcomings must remain a top priority of management and the council. She encouraged the stakeholders to sit and engage with one another. She asked NEHAWU if it had opened any cases of victimisation, and the status of such cases.

Demographics on persons living with disabilities at Unisa had not been included in the brief. She felt that Unisa must be reinvited to engage further on the salient issues that had come up. How did it deal with retention and talent management?

Lastly, on remodelling Unisa, she emphasised the importance of renewing Unisa’s organisational culture, adding that she was not impressed with Unisa’s lack of a proactive approach by the communication services of the institution. It was their collective responsibility to defend the gains of the country's democracy. Unisa was the first institution of choice for many of children who come from poor backgrounds. They had to protect this university.

Mr Chikwambana said that Members were tired of seeing women in leadership positions in institutions of higher learning becoming a target over petty issues. Unisa’s challenges stemmed from the unions, be it whether they were fighting for tenders or for representation, while expecting protection from management. If they did not get protection from management, they started targeting management and cooking up stories against management. Members were not going to allow petty politics to happen at Unisa, as this compromised the core academic programme of the institution.

He was not pleased with NEHAWU’s behaviour at Unisa. Members would not entertain a group of people who wanted to do away with a woman because she refused to do what NEHAWU wanted. How many unions did Unisa have? Some of the unions were not present at the meeting. This would cause a further rift within the institution.

He said Unisa had a Unisa Enterprise, and questioned its purpose. Was it serving its purpose of promoting entrepreneurship? How much capital injection had been made by Unisa into the Enterprise, and were there were any returns on that capital investment? Why did Unisa have so many acting positions in critical vacancies, some of whom he believed caused some of the instability at the institution. He urged Unisa to employ permanent people in critical positions.

What debt collection measures had been undertaken by Unisa regarding the R1.1 billion student debt? Did it have mechanisms to write off the debt of students it could not trace?

What was the management’s relationship with the SRC? From the brief of the SRC, one could conclude that it did not seem like there was a relationship, or an opportunity to engage with the management of Unisa. The SRC did not even receive leadership training.

He appealed to management and the labour unions to find one another, because engaging through the CCMA was not a recipe for stability at Unisa. These actions led to unjustified protests.

Ms King pointed out that there was an MTT and independent assessor report. The Committee would like to see what had been achieved and not achieved so far. Regarding these reports, which of their findings and recommendations did Unisa agree and disagree with? Had the institution taken the complete IA report under review, or just specific aspects with which the institution was not in agreement?

Student funding was precarious, and Unisa was unique in the way it operated. They could therefore not consider a system that would place a heavier strain on NSFAS when it came to incorporating Unisa students. There was a notion that stakeholders had been requested to provide input on the draft comprehensive student funding model -- had Unisa provided such input? If so, could these inputs be provided in writing to the Committee?

Ms Khakhau first addressed racism at Unisa, as claimed by the Black Forum. She had known Unisa to be one of the "blackest" institutions of higher learning in the country, and it was interesting to hear that there were issues of racism. What did racism at Unisa look like? Where were the racists? Secondly, regarding the trust deficit between employees and management, there was an indication that a “TRC” (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) was needed, but Members were not aware of how far the problems between management and workers within the institution stretched. Thus, in an attempt to imagine what the “TRC” would achieve, given how ruptured the relationships were, would this structure be sufficient? She did not see how management and workers would find each other after the “TRC.”

Referring to the decolonised education relevant to South Africa’s needs, she asked for a breakdown of what this meant for Unisa. What did it look like, and how was the institution failing in administering education that was decolonised, not only in its offerings but also its outcomes and the output of the people that left the institution to contribute to South Africa?

She said they were nearing the end of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and other institutions were supposed to be sharing notes from Unisa on how to administer education in a digital form, yet the institution was failing to do so effectively in a way that gave confidence to other institutions to adopt their methods. This institution was supposed to be leading by example, and given how messy things were, how were young people seeking education digitally going to find confidence in the sector itself when the lead institution for digital education was currently failing? Young people had often complained about how systems were not easy for them to thrive in. Unisa was an attraction for a black child who wanted to escape poverty, but the institution was making it effectively impossible for that to happen. She suggested the Department could also comment on this.

The Chairperson said much had been said about the labour unions at Unisa, as well as its management. A lot of questions had also been asked about the teaching and learning, so it would be critical for the institution to package that information in a way that inspired confidence. The observations that came out of the MTT report spoke to this concern – issues around ICT capabilities, qualification offerings, and the ability to carry the sector. It was important that the Department reflect on this. The sector was getting bigger, and Unisa carried a large cohort of students. There was a need to strengthen the Unisa distance learning so that others could become great.

There had been no clear evidence of the work that management had done, and Members could not compare it. Hence, the Committee requested a follow-up presentation that highlighted the past, the current state of the institution, and its future.

The report by the IA had been accepted by all the parties involved. However, the Committee was faced with the task of engaging with Prof Themba Mosia, the assessor, while also being mindful of the ongoing legal processes. Parliament's legal services would provide guidance on this matter.

In addition, the Department had presented a detailed breakdown of its account regarding the parts of the MTT report that had been accepted and rejected by the council and management. The council had also responded to the MTT report. But the question remained -- what was the council's plan of action regarding the aspects of the report that it did not accept?

As for the IA, the way the investigations were conducted had been questioned, and the Black Forum was clear about that. An allegation that the investigation team had been discussing the investigation with other people was a serious allegation that could not be taken lightly. However, this allegation must be accompanied by evidence to substantiate the allegations.

Regarding load-shedding, Unisa relied on digital platforms to administer teaching and learning, so how had it worked around the challenges caused by load-shedding? Did it have interrupted teaching and learning? Had it received any form of support from the DHET on this?

She found it illogical that there was such a huge number of teaching graduates, yet the country was said to have a shortage of teachers. How did Unisa intend to respond to the changing dynamics of the country’s needs through its offerings?

All questions that required in-depth responses had to be submitted in writing, including the council minutes to substantiate the allegations that were made. Stakeholders were permitted to make closing remarks, but must provide full responses to all questions in writing.


Institutional Forum

Adv Matefo Majodina confirmed that comprehensive feedback would be submitted to the Committee as requested.


Mr Mzwamadoda Bhomoyi, NEHAWU Branch Chairperson, was eager to provide all its responses in writing. He stressed that NEHAWU did not support GBV. It had approached the VC and admitted to its negative contributions to the strike, and management had equally done so as well, so how should they move? The person who made such claims had been arrested, but it would seem the case had been dealt with.

Black Forum

Mr L Mamabolo, Black Forum Chairperson, said that it would provide a comprehensive response on the question of decolonised education. However, decolonisation was what the forum was busy with at Unisa. Though the “TRC” suggestion may be sound, it was not calling for a TRC per se, because these commissions were often cosmetic. It was calling for a home grown organic platform. This came from inputs from the Senate and individuals at the institution on the trust deficit, and the need to reconcile. The Black Forum was hammering on reconciliation, because that was the critical part of what it was proposing. As for the nature of what it would look like, all stakeholders who were involved would fashion the nature and quality of what was brought to this platform.

As for racism, we may all look the same, but racism was structural and embedded in systems. In the sector to become a professor one needed to publish. This involved having community involvement and supervision of completions, but the question was, who supervises black students and white students, and what was the performance of these two categories of students? Who were the editors of journals? Who accepted or rejected one's paper? Who were the reviewers of various journals? If they were white, how long would it take the black child to publish and become a professor? Structural racism spoke to these issues, not the number of black professors versus the number of white professors.

Academic and Professional Staff Association (APSA)

Mr B Phakamisa, APSA Chairperson at Unisa, said they were sharing the same infrastructure with sister unions. The diagnosis may be similar, but the approach and the strategy may be different.


Ms Samkelisiwe Landi Ndlovu, SRC President at Unisa, thanked the Committee for its intervention, and said they would be making their submissions in writing.

The Chairperson said it was very concerning when labour and students were claiming that the institution was politicised. Institutions of higher learning were social institutions in communities shaped by the political realities of their communities, and must influence the politics of those communities.

Unisa management

Professor Puleng LenkaBula, Unisa Vice-Chancellor, said that the student body at Unisa was multi-generational, and this was one of the main topics of discussion during the 2018 MTT on Unisa. The aim of this assessment was to determine whether it was accommodating the needs of working students, as well as those who had just completed high school, while also taking into account the fact that there were 17 155 students under the age of 20. There was a need to ensure that the outcome of the MTT was aligned with the needs of the four million young people who were unable to access higher education. The report from the MTT had been used by management to identify areas that the university needed to work on.

Unisa was committed to supporting and empowering its staff and students living with disabilities. The university had a significant number of staff and students who live with disabilities, and it had taken steps to ensure that they had access to a convenient learning environment. To this end, it had 23 multi-purpose laboratories equipped with technology designed specifically for students living with disabilities. Moreover, Unisa shared access to these facilities with other universities.

Unisa also had an advocacy centre that aimed to support people living with disabilities and create an inclusive environment for them. Additionally, the university had a centre for research on disability issues and universal access, which was a vital resource for scholars and researchers interested in this field.

As of 2023, 105 staff living with disabilities were employed by Unisa. Of these, 53 were male and 52 were female. Although they received support from the university, more needed to be done to ensure that they could perform their duties to the best of their abilities.

Unisa had also been able to provide support to its registered students living with disabilities. There were currently 1 246 male and 1 922 female students who had been able to benefit from the university's support services.

Victimisation had been raised a few times by Members, and it seemed to be an Achilles heel for Unisa. Labour unions had indicated that they did not support GBV, but when calls for the rape of women at the university were made, NEHAWU had not condemned it. Therefore, the majority of women in the institution were scared and fearful of speaking out and engaging substantively in contestations for fear of rape and molestation.

Management recognised that in 2018, Unisa had the Human Rights Commission analysing some of the cultural challenges that the University was experiencing, and to overcome this would take time.

Regarding disruptions of graduation ceremonies, they had come to an agreement with the labour unions that as much as one could wrestle, one must not disadvantage Unisa's students and society.

(At this stage, the live stream was abruptly cut off due to load-shedding at the Parliamentary precinct.)

Share this page: