/ 13 September 2017

Varsity head gets death threats after announcing fraud probe

Professor Gordon Zide has been receiving death threats ever since he announced a forensic investigation at VUT.
Professor Gordon Zide has been receiving death threats ever since he announced a forensic investigation at VUT.

The vice-chancellor of Vaal University of Technology (VUT), Professor Gordon Zide, has received death threats after announcing a forensic investigation at the university.

VUT spokesperson Mike Khuboni confirmed that Zide had received death threats immediately after announcing the investigation on August 31.

Zide took over from Professor Irene Moutlana in June and was inaugurated last month.

The Mail & Guardian has seen a memo sent to staff last week in which Zide said he had received anonymous calls in the night.

It read: “Without speaking in tongues or riddles, I want to inform the VUT community and those who called me anonymously that no amount of death threats will dissuade me from doing what I have committed myself to, i.e. to lead the institution ethically and to root out fraud and corruption.”

In the memo, Zide said he had received mixed reactions after he announced the forensic investigation, but said he had anticipated a negative reaction.

“I am not unduly perturbed about the negative comments and negative reactions as these will not dissuade me from what I have committed to myself … I have asked the VUT community to walk with me on this road as the institution is much larger than any one of us.”

In the notice sent to staff on August 31, which the M&G has also seen, Zide said he would ask for consent from the university’s council to conduct the investigation into departments that had been identified as dysfunctional.

The departments are: human resources, student support services, finance, operations and logistics, the executive management committee and the vice-chancellor’s office.

Speaking about the need to look into human resources, Zide said some of the allegations included the existence of ghost employees and the poor turnaround time in appointment processes, which he said “leaves much to be desired”.

Early this year an independent investigation by Pule Attorneys into the affairs of the university had discovered nepotism was rife and found that people were hired without following the proper processes. Senior officials were identified in these wrongful practices.

In a separate case, a project manager employed on a three-year fixed contract had his contract extended even though he was under investigation for financial misconduct.

Some of the allegations against the project manager were that he approved funds to be paid to contractors without the approval of the council, and these amounted to millions.

Zide said he would ask the council to approve a separate forensic investigation of the vice-chancellor’s office to avoid a conflict of interest.

“The envisaged forensic investigations will leave no stone unturned and there will be no holy cows — all of us need to be subjected to the same forensic investigation if we are to get a better understanding of the state of the university,” he wrote.

In 2012, Zide’s predecessor was suspended on allegations of corruption. Moutlana had meddled in the awarding of a tender, which resulted in the university paying R1.3-million for the project, instead of R486 000. She was found guilty and given a final warning.

Khuboni said the implementation of the forensic investigation had not started and would be discussed at a council meeting later this month.