Court blow for Nzimande over Seta changes

The government’s skills-development plans received a setback on Tuesday when the Labour Court ruled that Blade Nzimande, minister of higher education and training, exceeded his powers in changing the governance structure of the billion-rand Services Sector Education and Training Authority (Seta).

Judge AC Basson also ruled that Nzimande had not consulted adequately and that the suspension of the Seta’s CEO, Ivor Blumenthal, was unlawful.

The Services Seta and Blumenthal launched an urgent interdict application two weeks ago. Basson ruled that Nzimande’s actions had been “unfair and [were] therefore … set aside”.

He awarded costs against the minister.

Blumenthal told the Mail & Guardian that the judgement has serious implications for all the Setas. “There are 21 Setas and we are the only Seta that challenged the minister. The impact of this judgement will be felt on all the others.”

‘There is still a rule of a law’
Welcoming the judgement, he said: “It shows us there is still a rule of a law. Whether you are a minister or not, you can’t just change the rule of law. A minister cannot just bring in a new constitution.”

The judge ruled that Nzimande “does not have the power to impose unilaterally a new constitution on the Seta — his powers are limited to approving a constitution.”

“I am not persuaded on the papers that the minister engaged in any meaningful consultation,” the judgement read.

The country’s second-largest trade union grouping, the Federation of Unions of South Africa, was a co-applicant in the Labour Court action with the Services Seta and Blumenthal, as were the Association of Personnel Service Organisations of South Africa and the Confederation of Associations in the Private Employment Sector.

The judge noted this, saying, “The court is faced with the extraordinary situation where significant representatives of labour and representatives of organised labour have united as applicants to contest the validity of various actions by the minister.”

Gwebs Qonde, acting director general of higher education and training, and Nqaba Nqandela, the department’s chief of staff, were not available to comment on Nzimande’s behalf on Tuesday afternoon.

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Amanda Strydom
Amanda Strydom is the Mail & Guardian online's night editor. With a background in science and journalism, she has a black belt third dan in ballet and, according to a statistical analysis of the past three years, reads 2.73 books every week. She never finishes her tea, although she won't say no to a cupcake. But only just this once.

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