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Cape Town -
The two Brians at the head of the University of the Western Cape (UWC) have broken their silence about the feud that has left the reputation of the university’s leadership in tatters.
Rector Brian O’Connell told the Cape Times on Thursday Brian Williams, UWC council chairman and convocation president, used the SRC as his foot soldiers to wreak havoc at the institution.
But Williams hit back saying the claim was just a smoke screen to a larger malaise of a lack of public accountability by the rector.
A court ruling in May ordered the embattled university to reinstate Williams after the council had asked him to step down last year.
O’Connell on Thursday pointed to a student protest led by the SRC in March as an example of how Williams has manipulated the SRC.
CCTV footage of the class disruptions, which the Cape Times has in its possession, shows SRC president Msingathi Kula and fellow protesters entering a classroom where exams were being written.
In the footage, Kula proceeds to dance and clap his hands. He later climbs on to a desk to continue his protest.
O’Connell revealed that two weeks ago, despite the classroom disruptions in March, Williams “exalted” Kula as “a brave young man” during an address he made at the memorial service of a fellow council member. “The university has been under siege for a while, surprisingly from its own chairperson of the council and the president of the convocation,” said O’Connell.
“The targets have been me and Professor (Ramesh) Bharuthram (O’Connell’s deputy) because we stand in the way of complete domination of UWC by Brian Williams and his followers, which sadly includes the SRC.”
But Williams said in response: “All the allegations Mr O’Connell made are noise diversions and vacuous red herrings that take us away from the fact of analysing the relationship of good governance.”
Williams said a nine-year professional relationship with O’Connell broke down when a complaint was filed against Bharuthram by a council member in June 2012.
“He had unilaterally decided to refuse to pay airfare and a accommodation for a visiting Cuban ambassador who was invited to the university.”
Williams said the council overturned the decision. But O’Connell later wrote a letter to the council to allege that Williams had appointed an external investigator to investigate the complaint against Bharuthram.
“This led the university to a downward spiral,” said Williams. “The complaint went out to a group email and now we sat in a win/lose scenario which was unprecedented in UWC.”
William says a sub-committee was formed with the intent of repairing the relationship between the rector and vice-chair.
A meeting was called for September 2013, but then Williams was informed it wasn’t going ahead because O’Connell wasn’t available. Williams said he left, but unbeknown to him the meeting went ahead. “There was a new single item on the agenda: to remove the council chairman. Five people remained with administrators who had voting rights. There was a unilateral decision taken that I be removed.
“Thirteen out of the 30 council members made the decision. The first time I learnt of the decision was in a group email to all council members. By the next Monday it was sent to the entire university community.”
O’Connell also criticised Williams for going to court, which cost UWC about R500 000.
“The matter came to a head when council decided that Brian Williams stand down as chairperson. A good and loyal servant would have opposed this using internal processes to try and persuade council that it was wrong,” said O’Connell. “But instead, he went to court immediately and it involved large sums of money for legal fees… up to R500 000. This strategy was to make the next step very difficult for anyone who opposes him.
“He speaks of himself as a principled man and guardian of good governance, but... his actions say the opposite.”
Williams said his legal bill - which UWC was ordered to pay costs - came to R400 000. “The principle was that we had to hold the rector to account. The decision was unlawful. At any point they could have entered into a discussion to admit they were wrong and agree to my reinstatement,” he said.
“If there was anything I’d done wrong in terms of being improper, why did they not put that in their court papers? (O’Connell) didn’t do that because factually it wasn’t true.”
Kula on Thursday said: “We had apologised to the students for disrupting the classes but we won’t apologise for trying to hold the rector accountable. We could have done it in a better way and we apologised to the students later,” said Kula.
Kula denied that he was close to anyone. “There are genuine concerns and there’s a big problem with the university’s residences and registration issues that have been raised and does not have anything to do with Brian Williams.”