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A former University of KwaZulu-Natal professor who was fired for alleged racist and derogatory remarks, has taken the fight for his job to the Labour Court as he says he was summarily dismissed without an opportunity to defend himself.
On Thursday Professor Anunathan Reddi’s case was argued in court and judgment was reserved after he asked for his dismissal to be set aside.
He also wants an order compelling the university to continue with his disciplinary hearing or alternatively that there be a disciplinary appeal.
He has denied allegations of verbal abuse and reportedly has said the claims were baseless.
The university argued that the matter should be struck off the roll and that Reddi was now “at odds” with vice-chancellor Malegapuru Makgoba and that his reinstatement would be “undesirable”.
Reddi, who headed UKZN’s cardiothoracic department and was the head of the cardiothoracic surgery at Durban’s Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital, claims he was fired in June after a decision was taken by Makgoba.
He said Makgoba had dismissed him even though his disciplinary hearing had not been concluded.
In the dismissal letter Makgoba, who had sought legal advice, said Reddi had “ample time” to deal with his disciplinary hearing but had abused the process.
Makgoba said the disciplinary process had become costly, there had been gross abuse of resources and he dismissed Reddi based on the serious misconduct charges.
However, Reddi’s advocate, Danny Berger SC, argued on Thursday that the university had not given his client a chance to defend himself and so had “changed the rules of the game”.
“At the time the hearing was terminated, it was on the university’s sixth witness. There has been no recommendation that he be dismissed. Yet the decision is taken that he is guilty and has to be fired.”
Reddi wanted the opportunity to defend his case and the matter was urgent because he was due for retirement next October.
“He has a limited window of opportunity to vindicate his reputation and restore his dignity.”
But the university’s advocate, Gardner van Niekerk SC, argued that Reddi had been given a “fair opportunity”.
“The opportunity of a disciplinary hearing was given to him. It went on for more than a year and sat for 24 days. It was stopped because the applicant (Reddi) abused the process.”
Reddi’s attorney had subjected witnesses to lengthy questioning sessions, had repeated questions and asked for the removal of witnesses.
He added that Reddi had filed damages claims against his colleagues who testified in the hearing as a form of intimidation.
“Any reasonable employer would have lost patience with the delays and the abuse. It was also occurring at great cost to the employer and the employee,” he said.
The allegations against Reddi first surfaced last year when a complaint was laid with the university, the Health Professions Council of South Africa and the South African Medical Association among others.
Among the complaints was that he had used the k-word and had referred to Muslims as “slumous”.
He had also allegedly made sexual innuendos when speaking to staff, used vulgar language when addressing them and ridiculed them in front of junior staff.
Reddi was also accused of making remarks that some Indians had not evolved from their ancestors’ days in the canefields, and that the only development they had shown since then was that their “sickles had been replaced by stethoscopes”.
He hit back suing six colleagues, claiming R2 million in damages.