HIGHER Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande’s immediate gazetting to place the University of South Africa (Unisa) under administration shows he is desperate to take over the university.
These were the words of Unisa lecturer in professional ethics, Mametlwe Sebei, who said Nzimande’s decision was a blatant abuse of power.
The North Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, ruled in favour of Unisa by denying Nzimande’s application for leave to appeal the court’s finding that the decision to appoint an administrator for the university was in breach of previous court orders and unlawful.
This was the fourth time the court ruled against Nzimande in his ongoing conflict with the institution’s council and management. The leadership and governance at Unisa have been in the spotlight over the past few months amid claims of maladministration and tender fraud.
An independent report commissioned by the Department of Higher Education recommended the institution be placed under administration.
Sebei said the consistent line of the court in this matter not only expressed a dim view of the minister’s determined efforts to place Unisa under administration. He said the court’s decisions effectively denounced “these relentless efforts” as both baseless in fact and law.
Sebei said this was political harassment of the university administration and a blatant abuse of power.
“The minister launched the application for leave (to appeal) fully aware that it had no prospect of success. This is apparent from both the logical construction of the purpose of the interlocutory orders in general and in these specific cases, and the establishment of jurisprudence on the non-appealability of interim orders in interlocutory court applications.
“The only reasonable construction of this legally baseless application is that it was launched from the beginning as the device to circumvent clearly stated orders of the court to establish the facts on the ground in so far as his desperate attempts to take over Unisa are concerned.
“His immediate gazetting of the appointment of the new administrator, without prior new notice to the university as required by the Higher Education Act, was intended to that effect,” Sebei said.
Sebei said the imminent implosion of Unisa was projected by the relentless false narrative of the fightback campaign in the institution supported by Nzimande and the independent assessor, Professor Themba Mosia, was seen as a blatant lie and self-serving scaremongering.
“Outside the echo of chambers, this is a co-ordinated fightback campaign, the minister could not substantiate any of these based on facts and figures he and Professor Mosia chose to overlook.
“These are objective facts and figures presented by an overwhelming number of internal and external regulatory and independent reports and rankings on the qualitative changes in the structures of institutional governance and executive management, and positive improvements in the academic and financial performances of the university,” Sebei said.
Last week, Unisa spokesperson Tommy Huma said the university believed the court decision was sound and correct, given that the matter pertaining to the review of the independent assessor report, which largely formed the basis of the minister’s decision, was still before the court and yet to be concluded.
Huma said: “The management of the university once again appeals to staff and students not to let these developments in court defocus them from the task of ensuring that the academic project forges ahead unabated.
“Management also re-emphasises the point that it is not fighting the minister but merely exercising its responsibility towards the institution, its stakeholders and the public at large by preventing an unnecessary disruption of the execution of its missional mandate.”
Nzimande said he would study the ruling and decide on the legal route to take.