/ 7 December 2012

VUT’s plots and dealings exposed

Members of the National Education
Members of the National Education

Evidence has surfaced suggesting that employees in Blade Nzimande's department of higher education and training plotted with union members and the now suspended vice-chancellor of the Vaal University of Technology, Irene Moutlana, to have its council dissolved.

The Mail & Guardian has seen an affidavit by Simon Mohlokoane, a former lecturer and branch chairperson of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu) at the university, in which he claims he was party to a meeting on November 21 last year at which a plan to have the council disbanded was hatched.

In the affidavit, which he signed at the Kempton Park Police Station on August 12, Mohlokoane claims that he and another former Nehawu leader met with Moutlana and two employees from the department to pen a letter that was sent to Nzimande the next day.

The letter, seen by the M&G, bears Nehawu's letterhead and was signed by Mohlokoane.

But according to Mohlokoane, all those who attended the meeting decided on its contents. "Prof Moutlana explained what should be written [in the letter]," he states.

In the letter, Mohlokoane alerts Nzimande to infighting in the university's governing and management structures and urges him to get rid of the council. "My appeal to you is to dissolve council and appoint an administrator/independent assessor who will get to the bottom of the problems of Vaal University of Technology once and for all," the letter states.

Nzimande appointed Muzi Sikhakhane, an advocate, to investigate the university's affairs in February this year. Sikhakhane concluded that the council was "rendered incapable of providing strategic leadership" to the university because it was "used for ­sectarian, petty, operational and political issues rather than the purpose for which a university council is ­established" and recommended its immediate dissolution.

The council was dissolved in July and Nzimande appointed Patrick Fitzgerald as an administrator to take over the body's responsibilities.

Mohlokoane claims in his affidavit he was misled about the motives behind the letter. In another affidavit, also signed at the Kempton Park Police Station but on July 21, he claims he did not foresee that the letter would lead to the suspension of Prakash Naidoo, the university's former deputy vice-chancellor for finance, who was at loggerheads with Moutlana. Mohlokoane's letter claims Naidoo was part of a clique that wanted to have Moutlana sacked.

But the letter apparently saved Moutlana's skin. "In January 2012, Prof Moutlana thanked me very much and indicated that I saved her and that she will get [her] five-year term and she will take care of me," he states in the affidavit.

Mohlokoane said this week he believed Moutlana was referring to Naidoo's suspension by the university, which happened in January.

Mohlokoane resigned from the university when his union comrades started blaming him for the suspension of Naidoo, who was recently offered a settlement by Fitzgerald.

Moutlana would not comment on any of the allegations made about her and denied meeting or knowing Mohlokoane. "These things are now getting inflammatory and out of hand," she said.

In a letter to Nzimande in February, Naidoo said he believed he was suspended because he provided damning information about Moutlana to a council task team that, in November last year, was investigating her role in a 2010 tender.

The team's 89-page report concluded that Moutlana acted improperly by using specifications drawn up by the company that won the contract during the tendering process. It also claimed that the project, which focused on reviewing the university's strategy, incurred an overexpenditure of almost R831 000. Initially billed at R486 000, the company responsible raked in more than R1.3-million.

When the council was disbanded, several of its members claimed that Sikhakhane's report did not reflect the damning findings about Moutlana.

They have been emboldened by the fact that Fitzgerald has cited the tender investigation as the sole reason for Moutlana's "special leave" and said they had an "advanced" plan to approach the courts to have Sikhakhane's report overturned.

Sikhakhane denied his report was not balanced. "I am very saddened by the repeated accusations against me," he said.

Responding to the M&G, Nzimande's department rejected Mohlokoane's claims as rumours. "Officials will go and investigate where there are allegations that need to be investigated and or verified," spokesperson Vuyelwa Qinga said. "It is quite ridiculous and undermining of government processes to actually believe that the department would go around 'hatching' plans in relation to interventions at institutions of higher learning."