The University of KwaZulu-Natals council has vehemently defended the institutions battered reputation. Pictured here is chairman Mac Mia. Picture:Bongiwe Gumede

The University of KwaZulu-Natal’s council has vehemently defended the institution’s battered reputation in a half-page advertisement in The Mercury.

In recent weeks, as public debate about UKZN has raged, the council maintained a strong silence.

But chairman Mac Mia has now gone on the record and, via a sizeable advertisement in Wednesday’s newspaper, addressed a range of controversies involving the university – from the perjury allegations against vice-chancellor Malegapuru Makgoba to the cancelled hosting of the Israeli deputy ambassador in May.

In an open letter, Mia and deputy chairwoman Phumla Mnganga confirmed what The Mercury established on Monday – that the council had opted not to institute any action against Makgoba.

Accusations by former UKZN chief finance officer Kanthan Pillay that Makgoba had perjured himself while testifying in court in 2009 are still the subject of a probe by police.

Independent senior counsel Jean Marais SC was appointed to probe the claims and reported back to the council, which deliberated at length on his findings on Monday.

“Council received and considered the opinion (from Marais) and decided it was not necessary to take any action against Professor Makgoba,” was the statement issued by UKZN’s highest decision-making structure yesterday.

According to a source on the council, copies of the report were handed back by members and “destroyed” to protect confidentiality.

Asked whether this was true, the university responded that extra copies of the document had been given to members during the meeting, and that they were collected at its conclusion, but that a copy was held by a senior university officer.

In the open letter, Mia and Mnganga take aim at allegations in the media of “dried up” donor funds, saying that in terms of managing this funding, UKZN had “an impeccable track record”, and that audited financial reports showed that the management and disbursement of all donor funds was accounted for.

Council also used the opportunity to say it regretted, and did not support, last month’s decision to cancel a lecture by Israeli deputy ambassador Yaakov Finkelstein.

The incident caused an uproar. While UKZN was backed by those who believed it should distance itself from a representative of a “government which perpetuates human rights abuses”, others condemned the move as a violation of freedom of expression.

Mia and Mnganga said UKZN “has endured the vicissitudes of criticism and opinion”, but that the council was confident Makgoba would continue to lead UKZN to “strive for excellence with integrity and accountability”.

Meanwhile, the SRC yesterday welcomed the council’s decision on Makgoba.

The chairwoman of the National Tertiary Employees’ Union, Nirmala Gopal, said it would have been unfair and irresponsible of the council to go against the advice of senior counsel, and that the decision had the best interests of the university at heart. - The Mercury