/ 18 May 2009

KZN university committee clears Makgoba

University of KwaZulu-Natal rector Malegapuru Makgoba has been cleared of claims that he suppressed freedom of expression at the university.

The university appointed a committee of seven people in 2007 to probe accusations that Makgoba was managing the institution with an iron hand, following negative publicity in relation to academic freedom.

Addressing the media at UKZN’s Westville campus on Monday afternoon, Phumla Mnganga, the chairperson of the committee, said the committee had found there was no evidence that academic freedom at the university was infringed.

”The committee found that, based on the submissions received, there is no evidence of a threat to the right to teach, learn and research at the university.”

The issue of academic freedom at UKZN sparked debate when the university instituted charges against physics professor Nithaya Chetty and mathematics professor John van den Berg in July last year.

They were charged for bringing the university into disrepute by communicating with the media.

The pair had accused Makgoba of blocking a science and agriculture faculty report from the senate. Van den Berg signed an agreement in terms of which he would continue to work at the university.

Chetty resigned.

The incident happened after the institution’s senate in 2006 warned university staff to be careful when speaking to the media to avoid bringing the university into disrepute.

To give credibility to its work, the committee appointed an independent observer, Advocate Selby Baqwa, to observe all the stages of the hearings.

Mnganga said the committee had also found that racism and transformation constituted a major challenge for the institution.

”Submissions spoke of experiences of both overt and covert racism, which at times intersected with the debate around academic freedom,” she said.

She said the committee had recommended that the university should develop an agenda to confront issues of race, racism and transformation.

The full report will be made public after it is tabled before the university senate on May 27.

It was also announced during the press briefing that KwaZulu-Natal Premier Dr Zweli Mkhize had been appointed chancellor of the university.

He replaced Dr Frene Ginwala whose term of office ends on June 30.

Makgoba has also been re-appointed as vice chancellor. — Sapa