/ 23 July 2010

More infighting at UKZN

In the month that the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s (UKZN) senior managers are launching their sanguine book of reflections on the university’s troubled merger experiences since 2004, one of their former apparatchiks in the corridors of ivory power is refusing to join the party.

Dasarath Chetty, for 10 years UKZN’s head of corporate communications but now excluded from executive revelry, alleges that vice-chancellor Malegapuru Makgoba engaged in ethical breaches and shady academic practices to efface and downplay the former spin doctor’s seminal contributions to the book while exaggerating his own. (See below, Chetty’s version).

That is one version. The other is Makgoba’s. The vice-chancellor declared that the Mail & Guardian should represent nothing of his hour-long telephonic response to its written questions. But Chetty’s claims are “without merit”, he said in a subsequent written response (below, “Makgoba’s version”).

Nowhere do Chetty’s and Makgoba’s versions coincide except on the fact that a book called The Creation of the University of KwaZulu-Natal now exists. Beyond that, all is a blur of contestation.

Chetty skipped last week’s power launch of the book in Durban, where Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said the publication interested him not only as a minister but also as a psychologist and sociologist.

Rigorous expertise in both those disciplines might be needed to understand the angry resentments the book has ignited and the power-bloc fault lines its production has exposed.

Chetty told the M&G this week he refused to attend the launch because he received his invitation two weeks later than even the deputy mayor of Durban. “It hurts me to be treated this way,” he said. He claimed that, even more cuttingly, the vice-chancellor severed Chetty’s last and by then slender employment link to UKZN days after he fired his first written salvo at Makgoba, on June 27.

At the heart of Chetty’s party-pooping is what he refers to as UKZN’s “power dynamic”, a specialist academic topic at the university in which he admits to being well versed. “It would have been extremely difficult for me to raise these matters [with Makgoba] in the way I did if I’d still been employed as head of corporate communications,” he said.

After he had spent years tirelessly trying to clean up UKZN management’s regularly besmirched public image, Chetty’s contract was not renewed at the end of last year — for reasons he declined to share on the record.

On his return in January to the associate professorship in sociology from which greater things had lured him 10 years before, he wincingly took a 50% cut in salary. This, and turning 50, encouraged a “career-change decision” and he resigned from UKZN in March to set up his own communications consultancy.

But the university still needed his communication skills, he said: the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa (Caprisa), based in UKZN’s medical school, contracted him to handle its press releases for two days a week between June 14 and July 31. At R4 000 a day, this contract was worth R48 000, Chetty said. But he claims that on July 5 Caprisa director Salim Abdool Karim terminated the contract, saying Makgoba had instructed him to do so. This was a week or so after Chetty’s written exchanges with Makgoba had begun. Caprisa has not yet paid him a cent of the R48 000 it owes him, he said.

Chetty showed the M&G correspondence from June and July between himself, Makgoba and UKZN deputy vice-chancellor John Mubangizi, co-editor of The Creation of the University of KwaZulu-Natal. The latter two invited Chetty to talk to them but he replied that their “tone” deterred him and he wanted a hearing chaired by an independent arbitrator. On July 9 Mubangizi replied again, copying Makgoba, and rejected Chetty’s arbitration offer. Chetty was to direct all further correspondence to the university’s attorneys, Mubangizi wrote.

“I’ve always tried to protect the university’s reputation and still do,” Chetty told the M&G. “I went there at the age of 17 [to the pre-merger University of Durban-Westville] and left at 50. My life is inextricably linked to UDW/UKZN and my name was synonymous with it.”

He still wants an arbitrator and “would abide by whatever he rules”, he said. Chetty says he has been invited to next week’s Cape Town launch of the book but will not attend.

Chetty’s version
Between the proof version of the book — sent in January this year to publishers Excel, based in New Delhi, India, as well as to all contributors for final corrections — and the published version, several dismaying transformations had occurred, including:

  • Chetty’s removal from the title page as co-editor, leaving Makgoba and Mubangizi as the only begetters of the creation;
  • His demotion from primary author of chapter one to second author after Makgoba;
  • In the same chapter, trivialities Chetty supposes Makgoba introduced. The former’s phrase “in the knowledge it produced” had been expanded to “in the knowledge it researched, produced and transmitted”, for instance.

Chetty was not consulted about any of these changes, he said: even as second author he is still co-author and his consent should have been solicited.

Another twist of the knife is the 14-paragraph introduction, which has about 12 paragraphs Chetty wrote but only Makgoba and Mubangizi are given as the authors, he said.

Makgoba’s version
“Dr Chetty’s contribution to the book has been acknowledged in the publication,” Makgoba’s statement to the M&G reads. “However, he does not believe he has been sufficiently acknowledged. In particular he claims that he and Professor [Fikile] Mazibuko were entitled to be cited as editors of the book. We are not aware of Professor Mazibuko sharing Dr Chetty’s concerns [below, “Other versions”]. She has not made any complaint in this regard to either ourselves or the university.

“My co-editor, Professor Mubangizi, and I invited Dr Chetty to meet with us so that we could discuss his complaints but he declined to do so, demanding instead that the matter be determined by private arbitration. He did so notwithstanding the fact the university has established independent structures to deal with complaints of this nature.

“The university has received legal advice to the effect that Dr Chetty’s complaints are without merit. We also do not believe that his complaints have any merit and we have written to him telling him so.

“As the matter presently stands, Dr Chetty chooses to make unsubstantiated allegations in the media rather than discuss them with the editors or submit them to the scrutiny of the university structures responsible for dealing with such matters. The university cannot take the matter any further in these circumstances.”

Other versions

  • Salim Abdool Karim, director of Caprisa, who Chetty says fired him on Makgoba’s orders, was abroad this week and did not respond to emailed questions the M&G sent him.
  • Fikile Mazibuko, deputy vice-chancellor of UKZN from the book’s conception to its early labour pains, and now vice-chancellor of the University of Zululand, said she “prefers not to comment on this issue at this time”. Like Chetty, she appeared on the title page of the January version of the book but not in the published version.
  • Mac Mia is chairperson of UKZN’s council. Chetty wrote to him on July 12 and 13, describing the lack of joy he had had by then with Makgoba and Mubangizi. He asked what Mia planned to do about that.

    Nothing, Mia’s reply said. Chetty’s pungent riposte says Mia does “not have a university degree … As a result it may well be that … you have serious difficulty understanding the critical implications for academia and the reputation of the university that my correspondence to you conveys.”

    Mia was “out of town” this week, Chetty’s successor as UKZN’s head of corporate communications, Nomonde Mbadi, said.

  • UKZN deputy vice-chancellor John C Mubangizi, co-editor of the book: “Makgoba’s version” (see above), includes his.