Report: VUT’s former vice-chancellor was not fit for the job

The independent assessor’s report into the affairs of Vaal University of Technology (VUT) has roasted former vice-chancellor (VC) Professor Gordon Zide for failing to offer direction and take responsibility.

The report, which was gazetted on Friday, described Zide as someone who was obsessed with himself.

“He complains about everybody and everything. It is either that executive colleagues do not perform or do the tasks entrusted to them, or [the] council does not support the VC. He rarely, if ever, takes responsibility, or provides solutions or gives strategic direction,” reads the report.

Independent assessors Professor Barney Pityana and Professor Rocky Ralebipi-Simela were appointed last year by former higher education minister Naledi Pandor to investigate the affairs of the university.

The intervention by Pandor came after numerous whistle-blowers contacted the higher education department about the institution.

But problems at VUT are not new. In 2012, under former vice-chancellor, Professor Irene Moutlana, VUT was put under administration. And again it was because of issues related to maladministration and a dysfunctional council. Moutlana was also found guilty of misconduct.

The assessors’ report acknowledges that there has been a “blanket of shame” that has enveloped the university for many years.

The report states that there was an overwhelming view that the institution’s latest troubles started when Zide was appointed in April 2017.

Pityana and Ralebipi-Simela write in the report that having gone through Zide’s inaugural address and report of the first quarter of 2019 in an effort to gauge his thinking, they picked up that he “did not have a positive view of the university very early in his tenure and he also did not offer a clear, compelling and positive vision for the university”.

“The trend in these papers indicates that the vice-chancellor is rather obsessed with himself, does not take responsibility, and manages by blaming those reporting to him for non-performance. It is evident that the vice-chancellor does not exercise leadership in difficult circumstances and fails to provide the university with a guiding vision.”

In December the Mail & Guardian reported that Zide retired after serving just two of the five years of his contract. In his retirement letter he cited not receiving support from council about issues he had raised, meaning he was unable to fulfil some of his duties as some of the reasons for his departure.

The assessors’ report, however, found that Zide was a “lonesome” vice-chancellor who failed to persuade and influence change and direction at the institution.

In his resignation letter, Zide also claimed that he had received death threats and had reported the matter to the police. He also allegedly suffered insults on social media.

According to the report, because he feared his life was under threat, Zide convinced the council to procure personal security for himself and his family. The assessors said it appeared that Zide was “paranoid”.

The report also reveals that Zide initiated cases against anyone who “mildly criticised” him on social media. “The result was that he was embroiled in cases that he could have let go … We observed that the vice-chancellor was highly under stress in this job,” reads the report.

Zide told the M&G this week that he will not comment about the assessors’ report in relation to his leadership at VUT, but that his lawyers would respond directly to Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande.

In a statement this week, administrator Professor Ihron Rensburg said the institution has intervened in most ways that the assessors’ report recommended, such as appointing people to critical vacant posts.

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

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