Cape Town - Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande’s five appointees to the University of the Western Cape’s (UWC) council had been “centrally involved” in the “unlawful decision” to remove Brian Williams as chairman, the university’s convocation has alleged.
This had led to the university’s reputation being “tarnished”, they said.
But two council members Nzimande had appointed rejected the charge as completely untrue.
A statement issued on Monday by the university convocation said: “Dr Blade Nzimande’s five appointees to the UWC Council were centrally involved in driving the unlawful decision… The High Court recently declared the decision of these ministerial appointees and others, who supported them, as unlawful.”
About 10 days ago, Williams had been re-elected president of the convocation.
Convocation members said the action of the five appointees flew in the face of calls for clean governance.
“The actions of these ministerial appointees ran counter to the public declarations by the minister that called for clean administration and good governance. We believe that the conduct of the minister’s appointees has undermined the direction of the minister in seeking to ensure public accountability of universities and their governance structures.”
It was usual practice that the Minister of Higher Education and Training appoint a number of members to the council of each university.
A Western Cape High Court ruling in May ordered Williams be reinstated after the council had asked him to step down last year.
At a special meeting in September the council removed him as chairman and Williams approached the court later that month to challenge his removal. About six weeks ago the court ruled that his removal was unlawful and invalid.
In his judgment, Judge Ashton Schippers found the decision was invalid given the matter hadn’t been on the agenda.
Convocation members said in their statement “a picture has emerged of the role played by minister Nzimande’s five appointees” from the record of that council meeting.
“The minister’s appointees drove the argument for Williams’s removal despite its inherently flawed nature…”
They said this was done despite being warned of possible implications. The subsequent court case was thought to have cost the university about R500 000. Williams’s legal bill, which UWC was ordered to pay, was about R400 000.
The convocation members said costs had been avoidable but… the action at the meeting had been “pursued with relentless vigour, based on false and inaccurate information presented by the appointees”.
“Public funds will now be used to pay the legal costs.”
Raymond Patel, who was appointed chairman after Williams was relieved of his duties and was Merseta chief executive, said the decision to remove Williams was “totally in the spur of the moment”.
“It would be incorrect to say the five orchestrated it.”
Bheki Mvovo, council member and president of the SA Security Forces Union, said: “I don’t understand how they can single out the ministerial appointees. That is a lie. There is no work that we are doing outside council to determine what is happening in council.”
Mvovo confirmed he had proposed Williams be removed. That decision, he said, was made because of a recommendation UWC chancellor Archbishop Thabo Makgoba had made that either Williams or vice-chancellor Brian O’Connell leave because their relationship could not be repaired.
Nzimande’s spokesman, Vuyo Yekani, did not respond to a request for comment.