Court hears of council’s failure

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Bloemfontein - The council of the Central University of Technology (CUT) in Bloemfontein has for a year failed to effectively deal with internal problems, the Bloemfontein High Court heard on Friday.

The court was hearing argument in a legal battle between the council and rector Thandwa Mthembu, and Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, his director-general Gwebinkundla Qonde and administrator Prof Stanley Ridge.

The CUT council has approached the court for an order to declare invalid the minister's decision to replace it with an administrator.

Nzimande, Qonde and Ridge also filed papers asking the court to uphold the decision.

Legal counsel for the minister, Paul Kennedy, said Nzimande had given the CUT more than a year to solve its problems.

Yet, the council had failed to put anything on the table to show it had dealt in an acceptable, constructive and effective way with the issues that were brought to its attention.

“In their own version, they failed to get reports from their own investigators.”

Kennedy said the council’s excuse that it could not get investigative reports was at best a “pathetic response”.

“They have a responsibility to govern, but do not take it seriously.”

Kennedy argued before High Court Judge Johann Daffue that there could be no basis for the council’s contention that Nzimande exceeded his powers when he appointed an administrator at CUT.

“We submit there was a solid basis for the minister to appoint the administrator.”

He said the criticism levelled at a report by Nzimande’s appointed assessor, Professor Julian Smith, before the interference, was unfair.

He said Smith’s evaluation and report on the CUT situation was professional, calm and objective, and that he had indeed “flushed out some bones”.

Smith had also managed to do, in a short period, what the CUT council could not do in more than a year.

Kennedy said that in many aspects, Smith received no co-operation from Mthembu and his second in command, Talvin Schultz, deputy-rector for institutional planning.

“With great respect, can the minister rely on (such) an autonomous council… this is not how accountability should work.”

Kennedy also questioned the status of individual members of the council, particularly the former chairman, Dr Sylvan Seane, to litigate in the name of a dissolved CUT council and using the university’s money for this.

He said not everyone in the CUT council agreed with the litigation.

In court papers, Nzimande said Seane, Mthembu and their supporters should rather pay for the legal cost for purporting to act on behalf of the council as a whole.

Earlier, legal counsel for the council, Jeremy Gauntlet, said Nzimande had given no reasons for his drastic decision to dissolve the council.

“You have to distil what your reasons are,” he said.

Gauntlet submitted that the argument that Nzimande did not have to give more reasons than the findings in Smith's report was wrong.

“If you make a drastic step of dissolving, you have to carefully weigh up all aspects.”

Referring to the report, Gauntlet argued that Smith had not kept his eye on the ball.

He said that Smith’s report - which supported an intervention - was “very foggy”, was “vague in language” and “simply wacky”.

Gauntlet said the reasons given in the report failed the test for the drastic decision by the minister to dissolve the CUT council.

He told the court the CUT council held the view that it was still in charge of the institution.

The case continues. - Sapa


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