Whistleblowers 'victimised'

Three staff members at the Medical University of South Africa (Medunsa) who blew the whistle on alleged high-level mismanagement at the university say they are now the victims of management’s revenge. Medunsa denies that any victimisation has occurred.

One of the three has been dismissed from his academic post; another two are on suspension and have been through disciplinary hearings that are due to be started again from scratch.

Mounting accusations against senior university managers led in 2001 to calls from the Medunsa United Staff Union (Musu), the student representative council and other student bodies for a formal commission of inquiry.

Medunsa’s council agreed on April 10 that a commission be appointed with terms of reference that included probing allegations of ‘human resources mismanagement, eg nepotism, incompetence, etc; financial mismanagement, eg loans, cheques; academic deterioration”.

The commission began its work in July 2001.
Its report later that year cleared Medunsa’s administrative vice-principal, Professor Thabo Masihlelo, of wrongdoing, saying that amounts forwarded to him were salary advances, not loans, that Medunsa had no staff loan policy anyway, and that Masihlelo had repaid the monies.

The commission found finance director Richard Moolman guilty of advancing R94 000 to himself without Masihlelo’s approval. Moolman was subsequently dismissed from the university.

City Press reported on various occasions during 2001 and last year on staff and students’ dissatisfaction with the commission and management’s handling of its findings. The commission’s report was a ‘whitewash”, said some staff and students.

The newspaper also reported on further upheavals on the campus around subsequent allegations of financial mismanagement, and the use of university funds to hire private security guards for acting vice-chancellor Professor Mpumelelo Bomela, deputy registrar Themba Mosia and Masihlelo.

The private guards were retained after clashes on campus in February last year involving student boycotts of classes and Bomela’s closure of the university for two weeks.

The Mail & Guardian understands that the guards are still employed.

Physics lecturer Dr Ike Sikakana was chairperson of Musu when the union first called for the allegations to be investigated. After a disciplinary hearing last year he was dismissed from his post in December. The hearing found him ‘guilty of disseminating confidential information and documentation” to the commission of inquiry.

Musu members Simon Magoro (in Medunsa’s public relations office) and Jackson Moshoene (exams office) also faced disciplinary hearings last year, on identical charges. They told the M&G that when they requested transcripts of their hearings, Medunsa authorities told them the tape recorder had not been working and their hearings would have to start again. They remain on suspension, with full pay.

All three maintain the commission of inquiry ‘became a trap”.

‘Those who complained got charged. But those who got money were exonerated. At the beginning of the commission of inquiry, we didn’t suspect anything was amiss, so we gave evidence in good faith,” they told the M&G.

‘But we did tell the commission later of our misgivings. We did this in writing in July 2001, expressing our hope that ‘credibility, integrity and trust’ would be established for a proper due process.”

The M&G has seen the commission’s letter of invitation to Sikakana. Dated August 2 2001, it acknowledges Sikakana’s written submission, and invites him to appear ‘at oral hearings ... to expatiate on your written statement”.

It also says the commission ‘would be pleased if you were to bring along any relevant documents to support your presentation”. Sikakana told the M&G these documents concerned allegations of improper loans.

The commission’s subsequent report notes: ‘By the 25 July 2001 it became evident to the Committee that many a stakeholder was reluctant to make a written submission for fear of victimisation.

‘This state of affairs was made known to the Committee by certain telephone callers. The Committee took it upon itself to assure prospective witnesses that no victimisation will occur as a result of its investigative work.”

In the second week of March Bomela told the M&G: ‘Messrs Sikakana, Magoro and Moshoene complained to the public protector, whose office investigated and found no victimisation.

‘There was no assurance or immunity given to say that any witness who has misconducted him/herself will not face appropriate disciplinary action ... In any event there was no victimisation ...

‘Prior to charges being preferred [Magoro and Moshoene] were asked if they intended to engage legal representation [to] which they did not respond.

‘Hearing commence[d] without legal representation and at [a] later stage during the hearings the employees concerned engaged legal representations and due to the inadequacy of the record of proceedings to [that] point, the respective attorneys proposed that the hearings commence afresh.”

The M&G also asked Bomela about the costs of the commission of inquiry and of the private bodyguards, but received no answers to these questions. Sikakana is on full pay pending his appeal against his dismissal, and Magoro and Moshoene are on full pay during their suspensions.

David Macfarlane

David Macfarlane

David Macfarlane is currently the Mail & Guardian's education editor. He obtained an honours degree in English literature, a fairly unpopular choice among those who'd advised him to study something that would give him a real career and a pension plan. David joined the M&G in the late 1990s. There, the publication's youth – which was nearly everyone except him – also tried to further his education. Since April 2010, he's participated in the largest expansion of education coverage the M&G Media has ever undertaken. He says he's "soon" going on "real annual leave", which will entail "switching off this smart phone the M&G youth told me I needed".   Read more from David Macfarlane

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