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University of Zululand vice-chancellor splurges millions while students suffer

The vice-chancellor of the embattled University of Zululand, Professor Xoliswa Mtose, received a hefty R478 000 performance bonus in December although there was no approved policy for it.

She was the acting vice-chancellor at the time and was receiving an annual salary of R2.9-million.

Mtose, who was appointed vice-chancellor in April, was the only staff member to benefit from such a windfall, according to a reliable source. The Mail & Guardian has seen a document indicating the amount that was paid out to Mtose as a performance bonus.

She has been criticised by staff and students for jetting off to the United States recently – while the university was shut down following staff protests over low salaries.

The cost of her business class return flight to Washington, as well as a domestic flight within the US, was R95 000.

She failed to appear before Parliament last week to discuss governance issues because she was in the US.

Mtose has also come under fire for opting to live in a palatial, R5-million house in the seaside resort town of Mtunzini on the North Coast, bought with university funds. Yet there is a house worth R4.7-million on campus reserved for her.

Her house in the exclusive Zini River Estate in Mtunzini was among seven properties that were bought by the university for about R26-million in total late last year, as part of its “recruitment and retention strategy”.

In addition to this, several million rands have been splurged on furniture, household appliances, curtains and linen to furnish the homes occupied by Mtose and other executives.

According to a document seen by the M&G, she was allowed to furnish her house to the tune of R700 000 and could only exceed this amount with prior approval from the chair of the council.

She could buy a dining room table and six chairs as well as a lounge suite for R80 000 each, a coffee table for R20 000, a bookcase for R30 000 and curtains for up to R100 000.

Other executives were allowed to furnish their homes at Zini River Estate to the value of R550 000.

Mtose is said to have visited the East London branch of the exclusive shop Winston Sahds to shop for furniture.

A brochure emailed to the university by Winston Sahd featured three three-piece lounge suites for R49 999 each.

Mtose also shopped for electronic goods at HiFi Corporation in Springfield Park, Durban.

A quote from this company for seven items, including a 3D LED television and a Hisense 122cm LED television as well as a JVC home theatre system, totalling R68 299 was emailed to her on January 23.

The M&G has seen a document showing a payment of almost R917 000 for a long list of appliances and furniture, including fridges, dishwashers, washing machines, TV sets and dining room and lounge suites.

Among the items were a state-of-the-art Samsung four door fridge valued at R50 000; a Samsung 75-inch UHD LED TV for R50 000; a Breen leather couch for R44 076.89 and an Afrique corner unit couch for R37 063.86.

Hlakaniphani Jamile, deputy secretary of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) on campus, said Mtose’s performance bonus was awarded despite no performance management system being in place. “You don’t just thumbsuck something that is going to give you money and suddenly get people who are your friends to approve it.”

He said the money could have been used to pay a lecturer’s salary for an entire year, adding: “There are not enough lecturers. People are pampering themselves with students’ money while classes are overcrowded.”

Jamile said there was “absolutely no reason” for Mtose to live in a residence off campus.

“The new argument being put forth that it is unsafe [on campus] is unfounded. Rectors have always resided here and they have never been harmed. For a person to simply become paranoid for no reason and then spend millions to address that paranoia is not helping the university.”

Said Jamile: “It’s a big, comfortable house. Whatever renovations they [vice-chancellors] want, they get. Now it’s a white elephant.”

The house on campus has a huge lounge and entrance foyer, a study, four bedrooms, a bar and a swimming pool as well as a recently revamped entertainment area.

A staff member said that Mtose did not deserve the performance bonus.

“Several members of the executive were fired while she was acting as vice-chancellor,” she said. “Anybody with a dissenting view was removed. She does not have a good leadership track record.

“She also abandoned ship recently,” the staff member said, referring to Mtose’s trip to the US while staff were protesting at the university.

The staff member said that in view of the fees crisis, other vice-chancellors who were awarded bonuses were declining it. “She should have used her bonus to open a trust fund to assist needy students. This would have increased her credibility in the university community hugely.”

Another staffer said Mtose’s bonus could have been used to finance the studies of several hundred students.

“She does not have the interests of the university at heart,” he said.

The University of Zululand refused to confirm or deny that a R478 000 performance bonus was paid to the vice chancellor, Xoliswa Mtose, saying her contract was “private and confidential”.

The university’s director of communications and marketing, Gcina Nhleko, said Mtose’s earnings were in line with her employment contract. She confirmed that Mtose had gone on an official trip to the US and that it had been postponed three times “to the dismay of the host”.

“The trip was approved by the university’s council. The vice-chancellor is the only one who travelled and the remaining executives attended to the strategic and operational issues of the university and all high-level engagements.”

Commenting on the houses that were bought for executives, including Mtose, she said campus violence had posed a safety risk to her.

“No suitable housing for senior management is available on campus and council resolved to establish secure off-campus housing for senior staff.”

She said a series of recent events, including the torching of a car, burning of curtains and violent protests lent credence to the audit recommendation that the vice-chancellor should not stay on campus.

She denied that the vice-chancellor’s house on campus had been renovated, saying “it is used for much required office space”.

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Prega Govender
Prega Govender is the Mail & Guardians education editor. He was a journalist at the Sunday Times for almost 20 years before joining the M&G in May 2016. He has written extensively on education issues pertaining to both the basic and higher education sectors.

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