Tuks academic makes racism claim

The battle to transform the University of Pretoria has taken another turn after a black professor at the institution claimed that, over the past decade, white executives had been ganging up with his department’s head to harass him.

Engineering Professor Michael Kachienga’s case is the latest to be taken up by the Higher Education Transformation Network, a black-dominated lobby group that has locked horns with Tuks’s management over the university’s alleged lack of transformation. (“Race row at Tukkies hots up”, Mail & Guardian, November 25 2011).

The network told the M&G that Kachienga’s long-standing tiff with management was evidence of an organisational culture that was hostile to black employees.
“What’s happening to Kachienga is happening to many black employees of the university because of its adverse institutional culture,” said the network’s chairperson, Lucky Thekisho.

Two letters of demand in the M&G‘s possession, one that the transformation network submitted to rector Cheryl de la Rey at the beginning of December and another sent to her by the National Society of Black Engineers on Feb­ruary 28 2010, cited examples of the “systematic harassment and victimisation” of Kach­ienga on racial grounds.

Done with internal processes
Although he joined the university in April 2001 as an associate professor, Kachienga has not been promoted to full professor and his salary and allowances have never been on the level of those of fellow professors, according to claims detailed in the letters and later confirmed by Kachienga. He said that, with his union, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union, and the National Society of Black Engineers, he had approached the network to highlight the lack of transformation at Tuks. “We’re done with internal processes, so we’re saying, let’s now go public because, whenever a solution does not favour management, it’s never seen as a solution,” Kachienga said.

Tinus Pretorius, the head of the university’s department of engineering and technology management, was alleged to be behind a plot to frustrate Kachienga, out of “professional jealousy” and “more importantly, because he [Kachienga] is black”.

The National Society of Black Engineers also accused Pretorius of using a “historical network” of colleagues to prolong the alleged harassment, which, they said, included a disciplinary process that cleared Kachienga.

“Professor Pretorius abuses the fact that he is white and has white Afrikaner colleagues in high-ranking positions in the university to underpay, deny promotion and generally frustrate Professor Kachienga. The actions of Professor Pretorius and the university’s management are racist,” the society said in its letter.

Pretorius declined to comment.

Kachienga’s position presented a “crucial issue that is, amongst others, central to the objective of transforming the University of Pretoria as a true South African institution”, the transformation network said in its letter to De la Rey.

Agreements and investigations
Responding to questions from the M&G, university spokesperson Denver Hendricks said the claims raised about Kachienga had been resolved through various agreements and investigations.

Claims that Kachienga, who received a PhD from the University of Cape Town in 1999, was being systematically abused because he was more qualified than Pretorius “were found to be without substance” in two independent investigations, Hendricks said.

The university said Kachienga’s permanent employment as associate professor was backdated to 2003 in a settlement agreement. His promotion to full professor was not approved “since he did not comply with the minimum criteria for appointment”.

Although he said that the agreement reached last year did not backdate his payment nor did it address his current salary, the university said he was paid the “full and correct salary applicable to the position of associate professor, inclusive of a professional scarcity allowance, as agreed with him prior to appointment, [and] since his appointment in 2001”.

Hendricks rejected the claim that some of the university’s executives were in cahoots with Pretorius and said the accused officials had “conducted or participated in prescribed internal processes in accordance with university policy”. The M&G understands that the transformation network is now lobbying the higher education and training department to intervene in the matter and other transformation-related issues.

Bongani Nkosi

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