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The rise and fall of a CPUT vice-chancellor

Even before taking over the reins at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) in 2014, Dr Prins Nevhutalu’s journey to his appointment as vice-chancellor was marred by controversy.

This week he resigned. 

Nevhutalu and political analyst Professor Sipho Seepe were leading the two-horse race to replace vice-chancellor Professor Lineo Mazwi-Tanga, who had retired. But a week before the university’s council – the highest decision-making body – was to announce who would get the nod, Seepe pulled out.

He wrote a letter to the council and the minister of higher education and training, Blade Nzimande, saying he would not participate in a sham process.

In the letter, Seepe said the shortlisting of Nevhutalu, whose CV was “vacuous and bereft of any semblance or evidence of scholarship”, was proof that the selection process was a “sham” and “participating in it can only give it a cover of legitimacy”.

On July 1, 2013 Nevhutalu, the only remaining candidate, was announced the new vice-chancellor. The advert to replace Mazwi-Tanga had attracted 40 applications.

Before joining CPUT, Nevhutalu had been a deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Zululand and, prior to that, deputy vice-chancellor at Tshwane University of Technology. He joined CPUT on October 1, 2013 and officially took over from Mazwi-Tanga on January 1, 2014.

Before resigning this week, he had been on suspension for a year. He served only two years and nine months of his seven-year term.

The Mail & Guardian reported in July that Nevhutalu faced a number of charges including gross dereliction of duty, gross insubordination, gross negligence, breach of trust and incompatibility.

The gross dereliction charge related to allegations that he lost about R2.6-million for the university, because he failed to participate in the negotiation of a departure agreement with a former executive director of finance.

On Wednesday night, the chairperson of the council, Nogolide Nojozi, told staff and students in a communique that a disciplinary hearing had found Nevhutalu “guilty of of gross misconduct” and that he had “resigned before a sanction could be recommended by the independent external chairperson”.

Nevhutalu could not be reached for comment.

Back in 2013, Mbulelo Bikwani, who was chairperson of the council at the time, was adamant that the university had made the right choice in appointing Nevhutalu.

In a statement announcing Nevhutalu as the new vice-chancellor Bikwani said: “The SSC [search and selection committee] was impressed by the qualities that Dr Nevhutalu is bringing to CPUT … Behind him is strong experience and a record of delivery in senior executive management … The CPUT council and community are more than convinced that Dr Nevhutalu will make a significant contribution to CPUT’s journey towards greatness. The CPUT family is indeed delighted with this critical appointment.”

And in his response to his appointment, besides being “humbled” and honoured to join a “great institution”, Nevhutalu said he was looking forward to making CPUT “the best universities of technology in Africa” and serving its people with “distinction”.

Fast forward to October 2016, when Bikwani signed the letter of suspension for the man he believed would take the university to “greatness”.

The conclusion to the suspension letter reads: “In the event of one, or all of the above been proven during a formal hearing, that would result in an unequivocal conclusion to be drawn that there is an irrevocable breakdown in the trust relationship between yourself and the university.”

The university is currently having to deal with ongoing student protests, which have seen several buildings being torched and exams and classes being disrupted. A case involving four students is scheduled for December 7 in the Western Town High Court.

The university has had four acting vice-chancellors since the suspension of Nevhutalu, with the latest being Dr Chris Nhlapo. The next permanent vice-chancellor to take over the controls of the university faces having to bring stability to the institution.

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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