Varsity’s ex-VC cries foul over ousting

The former vice-chancellor of the troubled Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), Dr Prins Nevhutalu, says he was targeted by the institution for exposing corruption involving members of its council.

Nevhutalu resigned last week after he had been found guilty of “gross misconduct”. The resignation and finding was announced by the chairperson of the CPUT council, Nogolide Nojozi, in a communiqué to staff and students last Wednesday.

Prior to resigning, Nevhutalu had been on suspension with full pay since October last year.

But CPUT has rubbished Nevhutalu’s claims, saying there are no records showing that he raised corruption issues at any stage, and that during his disciplinary hearing he had not presented “any specific detail”.

In a statement to the Mail & Guardian following his resignation, Nevhutalu said the university’s communiqué last week was a “distortion” of his disciplinary hearing and subsequent resignation.

Nevhutalu said he was the victim of a “witch-hunt” after writing an article in which he exposed the level of alleged corruption at the university.

“I have been charged and found guilty for raising corruption going on at the university … I still believe, as the vice-chancellor, it was my right to expose the level of corruption that was going on at the university and, in particular, where some of the allegations involved council members.

“Before I resorted to the media, I [had] raised these matters with the [former] chair of the council, Mbulelo Bikwani, on a number of occasions,” said Nevhutalu.

In his suspension letter, the university said the article, published in the New Age last year, had brought the university into disrepute.

The M&G reported in July that the charges against Nevhutalu entailed gross dereliction of duty, insubordination, negligence, breach of trust and incompatibility.

The gross dereliction charge related to an incident in which Nevhutalu allegedly lost the university about R2.6‑million because he had failed to participate in negotiating a departure agreement with a former executive director of finance.

He was also charged with failing to implement a new remuneration scale, which resulted in an employee go-slow at the university. This forced the university to bring in an external service provider at a cost of R150 000. The council also saw Nevhutalu’s failure to comply with what it termed its lawful and reasonable instructions as gross insubordination.

His failure to implement the remuneration scale affected relations between CPUT and trade unions, the university said.

He said the charges against him were “ridiculous” and that the disciplinary process had continued even though two audit firms had cleared him of any wrongdoing.

“It was clear to me that this was a fishing expedition to find something that will stick and get rid of me from the university. Even though I co-operated with the university, the serving of the charges gave them an opportunity to get rid of me through a suspension,” Nevhutalu said.

He added that during his suspension he was barred from accessing his emails, which meant that he could not get “important documentary evidence” that would “demonstrate my complete innocence on the charges”.

Nevhutalu said there had been attempts to buy him out of his contract to silence him, which he refused.

He said he was considering reporting the “rampant corruption” at CPUT to Corruption Watch for further investigation. He had also considered taking his case for mediation or to the Labour Court but realised the process might take years.

“Considering that I’m left with a year in my contract, and due to the breakdown with certain individuals who are still involved in the governance of the institution and having witnessed the level of disruption, anarchy and chaos going on in the institution subsequent to my suspension, I therefore took a decision to resign and move on,” he said.

CPUT has denied this, saying that at no stage did he raise any corruption claims. “Dr Nevhutalu also failed to provide any concrete evidence,” said spokesperson Lauren Kansley.

She said that Nevhutalu was presented with very specific charges that emerged from other investigations commissioned by CPUT, none of which involved corruption by council members. The charges against him pertained to particular acts of gross misconduct perpetrated by him, Kansley said.

She also dismissed claims that the CPUT wanted to buy Nevhutalu out and that audit reports had found that he had done nothing wrong.

Kansley added that Nevhutalu was given three opportunities to access his emails and was also offered a chance to request the specific emails he needed to “defend himself”.

Meanwhile, the university announced on Monday that it had suspended all university activities across all its campuses indefinitely.

This comes after violent student protests that started in August.

The M&G reported last month that the university had approached the Cape Town high court for an interdict to stop students from disrupting activities, damaging property and harassing staff.

Despite an interim interdict that was issued on September 1, protests continue. This week, students from a residence on the Cape Town campus burned mattresses and rubble. In previous weeks, cars were damaged and buildings, including a lecture hall, were torched.

Initially, students’ grievances centred on the lack of accommodation. They also demanded that the institution lift the suspension of four students — dubbed the CPUT4 — who, among other things, allegedly disrupted a council meeting in August.

On Tuesday, the students — Ayakha Magxothwa, Sivuyise Nolusu, Neo Mongale and Lukhanyo Vanqa — were found guilty in a university disciplinary hearing of “not maintaining order” and being “disrespectful” . They have been allowed to continue with their studies, provided they don’t commit a similar offence in the next 12 months.

Yet, the CPUT4 will still appear before the Cape Town high court on December 7 in a case the university has brought against them relating to disruption.

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