Nzimande visits embattled Fort Hare University after attempted hit on VC

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande was expected to visit the University campus on Wednesday.

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande was expected to visit the University campus on Wednesday.

Published Jan 10, 2023


Cape Town - The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) said its probe into corruption and fraud at the University of Fort Hare (UFH) continued, while Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande was expected to visit the campus on Wednesday.

UFH vice-chancellor Sakhela Buhlungu escaped death last Friday while his executive bodyguard, 52-year-old Mboneli Vesele, was shot dead in a hail of bullets directed at their vehicle.

Buhlungu has been moved from his official residence in Alice to a safe location. The incident has sent shock waves throughout the academic fraternity and elicited widespread condemnation from people across the country.

While the SIU wouldn’t divulge at what stage its corruption and fraud investigations at the institution were, SIU spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said: “We call upon the police to investigate this matter urgently so that we can know the motive for what happened. Our investigation continues as planned.”

Ministerial spokesperson, Ishmael Mnisi, said Nzimande would visit the university on Wednesday to meet the stakeholders, including the university council, its management, trade unions and students.

“The minister also plans to visit the family of Vesele.

“Following his visit the minister will have a media briefing on the outcome of his visit.Today the minister briefed President Cyril Ramaphosa and the Eastern Cape Premier, Mr Oscar Mabuyane.

University of Fort Hare vice-chancellor Sakhela Buhlungu.

“On Sunday the minister discussed in detail the issue with the Minister of Police Bheki Cele for law enforcement to carry out a swift arrest of the assailants and future plans to ensure the safety of the institution’s staff,” said Mnisi.

Nzimande’s briefing with Ramaphosa comes as Buhlungu publicly called for the president to personally intervene and ensure his safety.

The incident showed the matter had gone beyond the competency of provincial police, and answers were needed from the top authority, he said.

President Ramaphosa had authorised a probe into the institution’s affairs including allegations of corruption and maladministration and to recover any financial losses suffered by the state through corruption and negligence.

This included the awarding of honours degrees and four tenders at the university. In 2019 the university had to be placed under administration.

The EFF Student Command (EFFSC) said the culture of intimidation and assassination in the higher education sector has been growing.

“The fact that a leader of an academic institution must walk around with security protection is, in itself, a symbol of a lawless, morally decaying society. We call for a specialised unit to investigate the criminal capture of higher education in particular procurement.

“We equally call on the SAPS to promptly arrest those behind the shooting. Our heartfelt condolences go to the family of Mr Vesele.”

Criminology expert and senior research associate at UCT’s Centre of Criminology, Dr Simon Howell said: “Whistle-blowers play an important role in ensuring that institutions and government are kept in line and that’s why it’s important to protect them. It is quite sad that this is now becoming an issue in educational spheres.

“Having read and heard testimonies from other whistle-blowers co-operating with law enforcement, not enough is being done. They feel threatened and vulnerable. It is paramount that further protection is implemented.”

Corruption Watch executive director Karam Singh said the country was not doing enough to provide legal support or physical protection to whistle-blowers. “Whistle-blowers are highly vulnerable; sufficient systems are not in place to ensure their safety.”

Cape Times