The former council of the University of Zululand (UniZulu) has been accused of corruption in a report detailing findings of a forensic investigation into the university’s affairs.
The investigation, commissioned by Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, found that there were “repeated infringements of the procurement policies and procedures” at the university during the tenure of the council that was disbanded in 2011. In a press statement announcing the findings on Monday, Nzimande said this led to “preferential treatment and self-enrichment by some members of council and staff”, among a range of corrupt practices.
Chris de Beer, appointed as administrator for the university in April 2011, instituted the forensic investigation on recommendations of an assessor, who also pointed fingers at the former council. De Beer’s investigation focused on procurement, admission and registration of students, management and governance — areas that the assessor found to be compromised.
The assessor’s report then said that some members of the council, a supreme governing body in the university, used their governance positions to lend lucrative tenders to UniZulu, the Mail & Guardian reported in April last year. De Beer’s finding’s re-emphasised the assessor’s findings, which were criticised by some members of the old council then.
Beyond “unacceptable” activities of council members, the university has been riddled with corruption in more ways than one. Some tenders were given to companies owned or co-owned by university employees “without staff declaring their interests”.
The processes of issuing and auditing blank degrees and diploma certificates were violated, and this resulted in university employees being in possession of large numbers of these documents “which could have been used to manufacture false certificates”, said Nzimande.
Some students were irregularly registered, the probe found. It emerged during the investigation that they paid between R1 500 to R3 900 to secure places in the university. “Practices, such as these, must be rooted out as they can completely destroy the image of the university,” said Nzimande.
Members of the former council that the M&G contacted were not available for comment.
The minister announced that following the forensic report the university is now taking “appropriate disciplinary actions” against a group of 15, which includes staff members and students.
According to the department, more individuals might face disciplinary action. “There shall be no mercy for those who have been fingered by the forensic audit at the university,” Nzimande said. “Criminal cases will be opened with our law enforcement agencies, criminal proceedings will be instituted and we will call on our courts to impose the maximum sentences where cases are proven.”
It was of “particular concern” that some UniZulu students and staff members colluded in corruption, added Nzimande. This had “devastating consequences for the academic stature and credibility of the institution”.
UniZulu was now “functional” under the leadership of De Beer and vice-chancellor Fikile Mazibuko, said the department.
“The department would like to reiterate that councils and management of all our universities, and other institutions of higher education and training, are compelled to implement systems that will ensure and promote ethical conduct, fairness and transparency in institutions,” said Nzimande.
In a joint statement DeBeer and Mazibuko said the report contained valuable findings and recommendations for the university.
“The outcomes of the investigation will be used to improve our systems and to continually revise and adapt our policies and procedures,” they said.