The University of Fort Hare vice-chancellor Professor Sakhela Buhlungu has been cleared by independent assessors appointed to investigate the source of the institution’s problems.

East London - The University of Fort Hare vice-chancellor Professor Sakhela Buhlungu has been cleared by independent assessors appointed to investigate the source and nature of the institution’s problems, including an affair with a subordinate.

Independent assessors professors Chris Brink and Louis Molamu were appointed by Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister Dr Blade Nzimande in July to investigate the troubles facing one of the country’s historic universities and recommend measures to restore good governance and management at the institution.

Brink and Molamu state that they do not recommend disciplinary action against him.

Buhlungu, the institution’s vice-chancellor since February 2017, was accused of having an autocratic leadership style, blamed for being disruptive and pursuing a nefarious agenda under the guise of busting corruption, among others.

The independent assessors cleared Buhlungu of allegations that he had a romantic relationship with his office manager and that she was irregularly appointed. Instead, they have recommended to Department that after the one-year term of Professor Loyiso Nongxa’s tenure as administrator the University of Fort Hare should be subjected to increased and regular scrutiny for another three years.

Ex-Wits University vice-chancellor Nongxa was appointed by Nzimande’s predecessor Dr Naledi Pandor earlier this year following a lengthy period of strikes by staff and students, which disrupted exams.

The independent assessors want appropriate structures to oversee Buhlungu’s work including an ombud and an oversight team for three years.

The oversight team will report to Nzimande quarterly through director-general Gwebinkundla Qonde or one of his deputies.

Brink and Molamu also want the ombud to be independent of management, not a member of the university’s council, and in the three years of the oversight team report directly to the department.

In their report, Brink and Molamu paint a bleak picture of the state of the 103-year-old institution, finding that its problems are systemic and go back a long way and identify the lack of a culture of responsibility and accountability as its primary difficulty. “There are disturbing signs of a widespread belief that the university is a kind of cash cow which everyone must milk for personal benefit,” they found.

They said the problem was not only that this happened outside rules and policies, but that some of the rules and policies were quite generous in distributing the university largesse.

According to Brink and Molamu, University of Fort Hare students, who have complained about the state of the institution, have a legitimate cause for grievance including deplorable living conditions, teaching venues and laboratories.

“It is no wonder that students - particularly student political organisations - might jump on any anti-management bandwagon. Clearly maintenance of physical infrastructure has been entirely inadequate, to the point where basic human dignity has been compromised,” read the report.

Political Bureau