An ugly spat between senior officials is unfolding at the University of South Africa (Unisa). Registrar and council secretary Professor Steward Mothata has given principal and vice-chancellor Professor Puleng LenkaBula until 2pm on Wednesday to reverse his suspension, which Mothata said was “unlawful” and “borders on ongoing harassment”.
Mothata said his suspension, issued to him in an email by LenkaBula on Monday, was in retaliation for him reporting LenkaBula for misconduct and victimisation 13 months ago.
LenkaBula faces accusations of poor management, maladministration and displaying an authoritarian management style. This was documented in a damning report by an independent assessor who recently investigated the alleged mismanagement at the institution.
Mothata’s notice of suspension, dated June 5, cited various breaches of policy and informed him that he would be suspended for 90 days.
According to the letter, signed by LenkaBula, Mothata is accused of:
– Breaching policies and procedures in serious allegations of misconduct pertaining to breach of confidentiality.
– Gross abuse of office, gross dishonesty and gross insubordination.
– Making false or damaging statements in execution of duties and/or in the public place.
– Sabotaging the academic project and/or the business of the university in his dealings.
– Dereliction of duty in that he had failed to advise the university council and its committees, as well as LenkaBula, about governance matters and the possible related risks.
Mothata is also accused of “usurping and assuming the powers and functions beyond those assigned” to him.
While the notice of suspension fails to provide details of the alleged misconduct, there have been reports that Mothata was accused of sexual harassment and abuse of power by a former colleague.
Mothata has, however, claimed that a preliminary report of the investigation into the sexual harassment allegations was found to “lack merit and exposes the participation of Prof LenkaBula in the abuse of sexual misconduct”. Mothata further said that LenkaBula had paid R500 000 to the complainant in the sexual harassment case.
However, in her notice of suspension, LenkaBula said that in addition to the nature of the misconduct and the seriousness of the accusations, she was convinced that Mothata’s continued role as the university registrar and secretary of the council “will continue to jeopardise and undermine the official business of the university and that of council”.
She further said that there was concern that he might interfere with witnesses or the smooth running of the hearing and that his continued presence in the workplace would have a negative effect on the ordinary business of the university, governance, and the performance of his co-workers.
Mothata would remain entitled to his salary and benefits but he was not allowed to enter any of the university’s premises.