Stellenbosch University rector and vice-chancellor Wim de Villiers File picture: African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town – Stellenbosch University (SU) rector and vice-chancellor Professor Wim de Villiers has been exonerated of allegations that he had attempted to interfere in the Constitutional Court litigation related to the institution’s 2016 language policy by trying to convince Justice Edwin Cameron to accept the nomination for the election of SU chancellor.

The investigation came after the Concourt, 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.

At the end of October, the executive committee of the university’s council asked retired Judge Burton Fourie to investigate the allegations.

In a statement yesterday, SU said Fourie had found that “there was no evidence to support a finding that the conduct of the rector in regards to the nomination of Justice Cameron for the position of chancellor of Stellenbosch University constituted a serious violation of the law or serious misconduct”.

Fourie’s report was tabled at the last council meeting of the year yesterday.

“In my view, the facts and circumstances, and in particular the conduct of the rector, do not, when viewed holistically, give rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias on the part of Cameron due to influence brought to bear upon him by De Villiers.

“At best the evidence shows that the rector, as he was duty-bound to do so, assisted - probably even taking the lead in identifying suitable candidates for the nomination of a new chancellor. Justice Cameron, on the other hand, only put his name forward for nomination when the green light was received from Advocate (Jan) Heunis on behalf of Gelyke Kanse.

“A conspectus of the evidence as a whole does not, in my opinion, point to improper conduct on the part of either of them in regard to the process of the nomination of Justice Cameron, nor that they had conducted themselves at any stage in a manner that reasonably conveyed that Justice Cameron was biased in the Gelyke Kanse litigation,” Fourie said.

After consideration, council accepted Fourie’s report, resolved that no further action be taken with regards to De Villiers’ contact with Justice Cameron to ask him if he would make himself available as a candidate for the SU chancellorship, and that the matter had been finalised.

De Villiers said he 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. This has now been validated by the investigation.

“My only regret is that concerted efforts to discredit me and the University, also involved attacks on Justice Cameron and the other judges and processes of the Constitutional Court.

“There were no covert or sinister intentions by myself or others in our attempts to convince Justice Cameron to make himself available for the position of chancellor. There was no attempt at secrecy.

“It is also totally unrealistic to allege that one person yielded so much influence to convince a bench of 10 prominent Constitutional Court judges to find in favour of Stellenbosch University.”

Cape Times