/ 30 June 2009

Zululand varsity accused of racism and nepotism

The management of the University of Zululand (Unizulu) has been accused of poor management, racism and nepotism, according to a detailed report compiled for Education Minister Naledi Pandor.

The report by the Unizulu branch of the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) details the underlying reasons for the ongoing tensions and pickets on campus since August last year, which have repeatedly interrupted the academic work of the institution.

The conflict between the university management and Nehawu centres on the restructuring of staff compensation policies and the alleged erosion of benefits. This issue came to a head when, last
year, four top university managers, including vice-chancellor Rachel Gumbi and chief financial officer Moonsamy Govindsamy, were given 12.5% salary increases by council on top of an earlier 9.5% total remuneration package for all university staff, including management. The union and the university are still engaged in negotiations about possible solutions to the issues.

On the issue of racism, the Nehawu report says black staff at the university are generally discriminated against, despite the vice-chancellor being black. Black workers, it says, have been dismissed for inquiring about salaries and that uniforms for black workers are substandard
compared with those for white and Indian workers.

The report also refers to alleged racist comments by Nigerian and Indian staff. These include: ‘Black South Africans of African origin have low IQs…they are lazy and have no skills.” According to the Nehawu report Nigerian academics have created a ‘Nigerian colony”. ‘There are two departments within the faculty of science, which are run by Nigerians.

Now, almost everybody in those departments is Nigerian. These departments have about 90% of Nigerian postgraduate students. They have only Nigerian postdoctoral students and supervisors.

They also have visiting scientists who are Nigerian,” the report states. Nehawu said its concerns about Nigerian staff have been dismissed as xenophobic, but it is concerned about the racist behavior from some of the Nigerians against black South Africans.

Similarly, the report raises concerns that the university’s finance section and some of the top academic positions are dominated by Indians. ‘The chief financial officer is Indian. The internal auditor is Indian. The executive deans are Indians. The resources therefore are controlled by Indians,” it says.

The report adds that the chief financial officer wields more power than the vice-chancellor and that he has, in the past, overruled decisions made by Gumbi. Moreover, it alleges that some of the ‘deans are cousins and they have all worked together with the chief financial officer at [the former] University of Durban Westville,” the report declares.

In response to questions from Higher Learning the university acknowledged that the tensions between management and Nehawu started over the university council’s decision to give its top executives a once-off payment of 12.5% of their annual salary package in addition to the 9.5% increase last year. Said the university: ‘The trend is that the scope of responsibility and authority for each executive has over the years increased.

Therefore, the increase in authority and responsibility was contrasted with the financial crisis the university was faced with. Compared with other universities, Unizulu paid rates which were not in line with those of their counterparts,” the university said.

Unizulu is a comprehensive university, which, because of its geographical situation, has to serve the surrounding rural communities. Other universities in the same position are Fort Hare, Venda, Limpopo and Walter Sisulu.

The university did not respond to the allegations of racism and nepotism in the report.