Durban - KwaZulu-Natal’s top education official could end up behind bars after being found in contempt of court for not signing a document relating to a battle with a private higher education institution, Sants.
The warrant of arrest for Nkosinathi Sishi, who has been the education head of department for more than three years, was handed to the sheriff on Monday after the ruling by by the Pietermaritzburg High Court.
The sheriff was instructed to deliver Sishi to a jail cell, where he would be detained for 30 days.
On Tuesday night, Sishi told The Mercury that he had not received any legal documentation and denied he was in contempt of court.
Once he was formally informed he would apply his mind with the help of department lawyers.
“I am not prepared to go further than what I have said in the past. Sants wants to relate to us through the media. I am committed to paying the bursaries of students who, unfortunately, have chosen to study at institutions like this. I have contact with each one of them (the students) and not with Sants. I asked the Department of Higher Education to monitor the quality of Sants’s programmes,” Sishi said.
“I will not be coerced into a relationship with them (Sants) because they are not trustworthy. I will check with my lawyers. I comply with court orders, but not uncritically.”
In January, Judge Piet Koen ordered Sishi to publish a notice on the department’s website, bearing its letterhead, addressing all teaching students who had been awarded bursaries by the provincial government.
The notice was to state that bursary students were entitled to enrol with Sants for their BEd degrees and that the department would honour the commitment to fund their studies.
Sants offers four-year teaching programmes.
The notice was also to assure the teaching students that their bursaries would automatically be renewed each year until their studies were complete, on condition that they provided the department with their academic results after they wrote exams.
The letter meant to be published on the website was to be signed by Sishi, as the head of department.
Koen ordered that this be done by January 26.
Last Wednesday, Judge Dhaya Pillay found Sishi to be in contempt of the January order, and in failing to comply was to be jailed for 30 days.
Sishi was also made responsible for paying the costs of the application. He was instructed to pay Sants the third instalment of last year’s student fees, to the tune of R10.15 million, and to pay the applicant the first instalment on this year’s student fees of R17m.
He was found to have failed to comply with the court’s orders because, while the notice was published on the department’s website on Monday, it was signed by legal services manager Mandla Gwala, and not Sishi.
Earlier this year, the department found itself in danger of losing its fleet of 708 vehicles because of unpaid claims.
In two separate court applications, attorneys successfully attached the department’s vehicles, which consist mostly of Toyota Hilux, Isuzu and Nissan Hardbody bakkies.
One of the claims the vehicles were attached to satisfy was from Sants, which said it was owed funds for the tuition of more than 1 000 students. The institution took the department to court last year, and in November the Pietermaritzburg High Court ruled that the department was liable for the bursaries.
Sants then also accused education department officials of telling teaching students to study at other higher education institutions, or their bursaries would be withheld.