Johannesburg - Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande allegedly improperly interfered in internal management matters of the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) to save the institution’s embattled vice-chancellor.
It has emerged that the TUT’s council, the institution’s highest governing body, resolved to suspend Nthabiseng Ogude in December, pending an investigation into her conduct.
But Nzimande allegedly summoned council members to his office in Pretoria to tell them not to suspend Ogude.
Ogude became vice-chancellor and principal of the troubled TUT in August 2012. It had been under administration for a year, following the then-council’s controversial appointment of Johnny Molefe to the position.
Molefe was found to have used a fake doctorate to secure the job, and was removed along with the council.
But even before the Molefe drama, an independent assessor appointed by Nzimande had identified serious problems in the governance and management of the TUT.
The investigation of Ogude council members wanted is now under way, but she has not been suspended as per the council’s resolution.
The body appointed a three-member sub-committee in December to investigate the claims against Ogude.
A council member, who spoke anonymously, said: “Yes that was the resolution, that she must be suspended pending investigation.”
He said he would not “deny or confirm” that Nzimande told them not to suspend Ogude at the meeting to which he called council members.
The Sunday Independent understands the allegations pertain to complaints raised against Ogude by the university’s registrar, Matoane Mothata, and the campus branch of the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union.
“Nzimande made it clear during the meeting that the vice-chancellor should not be suspended, contrary to council resolution,” said an internal staff petition that The Sunday Independent has seen.
Staff members disgruntled by Nzimande’s action on Ogude circulated the petition on campuses last month.
It went out before the council set out how to proceed with the investigation. The body adopted the investigations terms of reference on February 6.
Ogude “ran” to Nzimande to come to her defence after the council’s decision to suspend her, claimed the petition. “Why should the minister instruct council not to suspend the vice-chancellor, contrary to its resolution taken in December?
“Will the vice-chancellor run to the minister again to rescue her (from allegations she’s facing)?”
The aggrieved emplyees, two of whom The Sunday Independent spoke with to confirm the veracity of the petition, claimed Ogude had appointed executives without following procedure and illegally made an R18 million payment to a company.
“Ever since Professor Ogude resumed her responsibilities in 2012 the application of university rules and regulations, financial and human resource policies and processes have completely collapsed,” said the document.
Ogude denied she got Nzimande to come to her rescue. “The minister has at no stage been requested to intervene,” she said.
She said the three-member sub-committee investigation has been set up to “get to the bottom of the current allegations”.
But she wouldn’t comment on the allegations. “Since the sub-committee’s work has not yet been completed and their report released, it would be premature and presumptuous to comment at this time.”
When approached for comment, Mothata spoke about the complaints he raised last year against Ogude, which are now central to the council’s investigation. “I compiled a dossier for council,” he said.
Mothata also differed with the vice-chancellor on how she fired some employees last year. Ogude tried to fire him as well without valid reasons, he said.
“Personally I was at the receiving end; she wanted to fire me and I don’t know what I did wrong. I have nothing to hide because I’m very tired of being harassed.”
Nzimande’s office said it was not true that his meeting with council members discussed the resolution to suspend Ogude.
“The minister may request to meet with any council to discuss issues of importance to the system or an individual university at any time,” said Nzimande’s spokesman, Luvuyo Yekani.
Nzimande would not instruct a council to do anything, as “in terms of the Higher Education Act he does not have such powers”.
“All he can do is discuss matters and appeal to councils to act responsibly and in the interests of teaching, learning and research.”
There was also nothing irregular about meeting Ogude, and the meeting did not discuss the council’s resolution, Yekani added.