Cape Town - Stellenbosch University rector and vice-chancellor Professor Wim de Villiers is to be investigated for his alleged improper influencing of retired Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron by offering him the position of university chancellor.
George Steyn, chairperson of the Stellenbosch University (SU) Council, announced on Thursday evening that the Executive Committee of Council adopted a resolution to appoint retired Judge Burton Fourie to conduct an independent investigation following a complaint against De Villiers.
This comes after the Constitutional Court, on October 10, unanimously found in favour of SU, which opposed an application by Gelyke Kanse, a lobby group that wanted SU to reinstate Afrikaans as a parallel medium of instruction, to compel the institution to return to its 2014 Language Policy.
In a letter to the institution on October 24, DA constituency head in Stellenbosch Leon Schreiber, also an alumnus of the university, requested council, via the registrar, to launch an investigation based on allegations that De Villiers had attempted to interfere in the court case by trying to convince Justice Cameron to accept the office of chancellor.
Steyn said in terms of good governance and transparency, the council decided to launch an investigation and appoint Fourie to conduct the probe.
“Before his retirement in 2017, (Judge) Fourie was a long- standing and respected member of the Western Cape High Court and acting member of the Supreme Court of Appeal.
“It is envisaged that a written report with the findings of the investigation will be tabled and considered at the next scheduled Council meeting on December 2,” Steyn said.
Schreiber welcomed the announcement and said the DA would closely monitor the investigation, “and we look forward to its findings”.
“We are deeply concerned about the perception of a conflict of interest in this case, but also about the disrespect shown towards Afrikaans and multilingual tertiary education by the rector’s alleged conduct”.
“We reiterate our call that justice must be seen to be done in this case, that English and Afrikaans should be primary and fully equal languages of instruction at SU, and that substantive multilingualism should be pursued at educational institutions,” Schreiber said.
He added that shortly after Justice Cameron accepted De Villiers’s repeated offers to become chancellor, he authored the judgment with regard to the use of Afrikaans at SU.
“De Villiers’s conduct creates the extremely worrying perception that Afrikaans and substantive multilingualism at SU were the victims of an attempt by the rector to improperly influence a Justice of the Constitutional Court,” he said.
In response to the decision, De Villiers welcomed the investigation announced by the council.
“I reaffirm what I said to the media last week. I did not interfere with the legal process.
“I am satisfied that I acted in good faith, and that the nomination and election followed due process,” De Villiers said.
Advocate Jan Heunis, president of SU’s convocation, said two important things needed to be noted in the matter: “First, the image of the university must be protected, and the second one is that the administration of justice in South Africa has to be equally protected as well.”
Gelyke Kanse expressed satisfaction with the council’s decision: “In accordance with which Judge Fourie was appointed to (investigate) allegations of irregular, immoral and possibly fraudulent interference in the recent litigation about the university’s 2016 language policy by De Villiers.”
Gelyke Kanse said it had instructed its legal team to make themselves available to testify before the commission and submit documents (including correspondence between the legal team and the chief justice) to the commission.
SU spokesperson Susan van der Merwe said the university would communicate further on the matter when the council had considered the recommendations that would follow the investigation.