The possible suspension of five senior executives, including four deputy vice-chancellors, from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), could plunge the institution into chaos, the president of the university’s convocation said on Tuesday.
The warning, supported by the student representative council and the university’s trade union, was sounded in the wake of notices of intention to suspend the five that were given to them on Monday.
The deputy vice-chancellors facing suspension include professors Renuka Vithal (teaching and learning); John Mubangizi (law and management studies); Cheryl Potgieter (humanities) and Deogratius Jaganyi (agriculture, engineering and science). The fifth is the director of corporate relations, Lesiba Seshoka.
The five, as well as former chief financial officer Bulelani Mahlangu and former executive director of student services Sibusiso Chalufu, landed in hot water after signing a five-page letter in November 2015 in which they accused vice-chancellor Albert van Jaarsveld of “racist tendencies” and incompetence, among other things.
Among the allegations contained in the letter was that Van Jaarsveld “excluded” Mubangizi from participating in the drafting of an investment proposal for donations to move the university’s business school from the Westville campus to a more “scenic” location at Umhlanga Ridge, north of Durban.
They alleged that the vice-chancellor opted to rope in two white staffers, one of them Mubangizi’s junior, to draft an investment proposal. The executives claimed that Van Jaarsveld did this to avoid scaring off “the whites-only investors”.
But a recent report by Dumisa Ntsebeza SC cleared Van Jaarsveld of any wrongdoing. The university’s council appointed Ntsebeza in December 2015 to investigate the claims.
Nokolo Bhengu, president of the student representative council, said the suspension of the five “would cause instability to the whole university”.
“We already have so many issues; so more instability would have a very negative effect on the students.”
She said that Vithal, who was in charge of teaching and learning, “was someone we need, especially now at the beginning of the year”.
Vithal, who has been at the university since 1993, is serving her ninth year as deputy vice-chancellor for teaching and learning.
“The possible suspension of the five executives would be very dangerous and detrimental to the university because it would cause a lot of chaos,” said Bhengu.
Fanle Sibisi, president of the university’s convocation, said it was worrying that people who complained “automatically become targets”.
He said the possible suspension of the five was “highly likely” to affect the running of the university because their experience was needed.
“We are in January and the registration process [for students] has not been finalised,” said Sibisi. “People are worried about #FeesMustFall and free education and we have people who are on the verge of being disciplined. It’s a miscalculated move.”
The Mail & Guardian understands that the chair of the university’s council, Dr Ayanda Ntsaluba, informed the five in letters that advocate Ntsebeza had found that their “damaging allegations” of racism, misconduct and incapacity against Van Jaarsveld were “without foundation”.
Ntsaluba informed the executives that the council felt their continued presence at the university would result in the executive management committee not functioning properly. The council considered that their suspension may be necessary to protect the university’s interests, Ntsaluba told them.
Ayanda Zulu, regional secretary of the National Health Education and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) in KwaZulu-Natal, said: “If you suspend seven black executives in an institution that is highly dominated by black people then automatically you are asking for chaos. There will definitely be chaos.
“We are going to fight as Nehawu to make sure that these executives are not suspended.”
Three of the five executives declined to comment and attempts to contact the other two were unsuccessful at the time of publishing.