If you are a university dean or a college professor you may not communicate directly with Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande. And don’t even try sending him a letter.
This is the stern directive from Nzimande’s office, through his chief of staff, Sibongile Mncwabe, who admonished heads of schools and professors who write directly to the minister.
The Mail & Guardian has seen a circular sent last month to all vice-chancellors and principals of higher learning institutions.
“It has come to our attention that a number of deans, heads of schools and college professors are writing letters directly to the minister,” the circular reads.
“Proper procedure and protocol, however, dictates that communiqué to the minister be authored by either the vice-chancellor or the chairperson of the university council.
“It is in this regard that we request that hence forth, proper channels be adhered to in communication directed to the minister.”
Nzimande’s spokesperson, Khaye Nkwanyana, said Mncwabe was communicating a decision of a meeting between the department and the universities’ body Higher Education South Africa.
Nkwanyana said Nzimande had no problem with academics writing directly to him if they were doing so in their individual capacity. What prompted the minister’s directive was invitations from university colleges and schools for him to attend their events, he said.
“Unfortunately, the minister cannot adhere to such college invitations. Official communication like this ought to be from the vice-chancellor or the chairperson of council.”
Wits University vice-chancellor Professor Adam Habib says Nzimande’s decision was an appropriate administrative response. “It makes sense that there must be co-ordination. Communication must be directed through one source,” he said, adding that, at Wits University, official communication was done through the office of the registrar.
“We have 7 000 staff and 30 000 students … if everyone wrote a letter to the minister on behalf of Wits, it will be utter pandemonium,” he said.
Professor Steven Friedman, director at the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Democracy, said the minister’s attitude was unfortunate. “It sends a signal that government is above those whom they have to interact with, which is not true in a democracy,” he said.
Nkwanyana said this week that Nzimande was “highly accessible, even on social networks” and that “every South African citizen can write and request a meeting with the minister in their individual capacity”.
This week Nzimande was not available to accept in person a memorandum from students protesting against funding shortages from the government’s National Student Financial Aid Scheme.
Nkwanyana said Nzimande had prior commitments in Cape Town.
He reportedly told the students they should march to the JSE and demand that the private sector fund education.