DURBAN - Students who bribed their way into the University of KwaZulu-Natal to study medicine and other health science courses have five days to turn themselves in.
This is the demand from the Medical School’s Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA), made up of the ANC Youth League, the South African Students Congress (Sasco) and the Young Communist League of South Africa (YCLSA).
They are also calling for the immediate removal of staff implicated in the scandal that rocked the university last week.
It saw three people arrested in a search and seizure operation by the Hawks Organised Crime Unit. They were nabbed when police swooped on their businesses and homes in uMhlanga, La Lucia, Reservoir Hills and Durban’s CBD.
The accused were the owners of the Little Gujarat restaurants, Varsha, 44, and Hiteshkumar Bhatt, 46, and uMhlanga businesswoman Preshni Hiramun, 54, who were charged with corruption related to the sale of places to study medicine and other health sciences at UKZN for up to R500 000.
The three were granted bail of R40 000 each in the Pinetown Magistrate’s Court and intend to plead not guilty.
A well-placed source revealed this week that Hiramun was booked into City Hospital the day after her arrest and avoided being in jail over the weekend.
It also emerged that an unlicensed firearm and ammunition were found at Hiramun’s home but she was not charged for this. Hawks spokesperson Captain Simphiwe Mhlongo said the firearm was seized and sent for a ballistics test.
“Hiramun claimed she had applied and was waiting for a licence. She must furnish documents to prove this, or she will be charged,” said Mhlongo.
The Bhatts, through their attorney Roy Singh, said: “We have the utmost faith in South Africa’s legal system. We await our day in court and are confident we will be cleared.”
Hiramun also protested her innocence yesterday.
The news of the arrests sparked an uproar within the university community. The PYA told the Sunday Tribune that those arrested did not have access to UKZN’s system.
“It is then unacceptable for us to view the arrest of the middleman as a success when the snake in the system goes undiscovered. We have no faith in the university leadership seeking justice after allowing such a syndicate to go undetected for years. This is a symptom of a lack of leadership in the College of Health Science,” said the PYA.
It added that if students did not come forward, they would apply pressure on the institution to identify, isolate and exclude them.
“Further pressure will be put on the Hawks to make arrests.This may sound like a dream but wait and see how things unfold.”
They urged students to co-operate with the police.
“We are aware the Hawks are coming for you. This (coming forward) would be the act of a remorseful citizen who appreciates wrongdoing and is self-correcting.This is a cry not to have selfish minds and bury this institution in our time. It’s our duty to society, to our country, and we dare not betray it because history will judge us harshly,” said the PYA.
The Sunday Tribune is also investigating the syndicate’s national links, in particular to the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University (SMU) formerly known as the Medical University of South Africa (Medunsa) where Hiramun has two children studying medicine.
Sources approached the university claiming to have known about Hiramun’s involvement at SMU.
SMU spokesperson Eric Pule confirmed that the institution was conducting its own internal investigation into the matter.
“SMU will not tolerate any form of corruption at our university. We are aware of the allegations and have therefore instructed that an internal investigation be conducted,” said Pule.
Hawks spokesperson Mhlongo said this was just the start of the investigation and more arrests were imminent.
Meanwhile, the Sunday Tribune has received several tip-offs regarding the accused’s involvement in the syndicate with some claiming to have been allegedly approached by the Bhatts as well as Hiramun to get their children into medical school and pharmacy.
UKZN’s fraud hotline toll-free service has received several tip-offs.
UKZN vice-chancellor Albert van Jaarsveld said the university’s forensic services unit was working closely with law enforcement agencies to identify any accomplices and beneficiaries.
• Contact the UKZN fraud hotline on the toll free number 0800 20 32 85. All reports will be treated anonymously and confidentially.@Nabeelah_Shaikh