A group of concerned University of South Africa (Unisa) workers and students have petitioned Judge President of the Gauteng Division of the High Court, Dunstan Mlambo and his deputy over the lack of urgency it treats the Unisa vs the Minister of Higher Education matter.
In a letter seen by The Star the staffers and students seem to suggest that the recent honouring of Chief Justice, Raymond Zondo and deputy chief justice Mandisa Maya was done in a bid to get the justice system closer to Unisa following a list of litigations between the minister and the University council.
This comes just days after Unisa succeeded in interdicting the minister from placing Unisa under administration.
Furthermore, the petition seems to suggest that Minister Blade Nzimande’s executive authority has been impeded by the justice system which has stalled the matter between him and Unisa even though it should have been prioritised.
On Friday, the minister was interdicted from placing the University of South Africa (Unisa) under administration.
This order was granted by the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, on Friday morning following Nzimande’s announcement that he intended to place Unisa under administration.
Judge Harshila Kooverjie indicated that there is a problem with his notice and subsequently granted the university’s urgent interdict.
It is against this backdrop that this group of staffers and students seek the assistance of the court to expedite this matter with a petition addressed to Justice Mlambo and his deputy, Justice Aubrey Ledwaba.
“Deputy Chief Justice, with greatest respect for your office...we humbly appeal the court to consider enrolling Unisa applications as soon as possible so that the minister is not muted or barred from exercising his powers as provided for in the higher education act. As affected parties, the delay in hearing Unisa applications is not in the interests of justice and constitutional democracy,” the parties said.
According to this letter, the lack of urgency by the courts and the delay has a negative impact on students and staff members alike.
“We appeal for the court to consider the principle of urgency and passage of time by enrolling the matter. The delay has far reaching consequence for staff, students, community of Unisa and the country, including the continent.
“As staff members, we have suffered, and the minister intervened through the ministerial task team and the Independent Assessor, therefore, the delay in hearing the case by the court deprives us as affected parties to know our fate in so far as the minister’s decision is concerned from the reports by the independent bodies, the Ministerial Task Team (MTT) and Independent Assessor (IA),” the parties say.
Last week, the State Attorney’s notice cited two cases that Unisa had lodged against Nzimande and Professor Mosia.
In the first case, the university’s council is cited as an applicant seeking to interdict Nzimande from appointing an administrator.
The second case was brought by Unisa vice-chancellor, Professor Puleng LenkaBula, in a bid to set Mosia’s independent assessor report, which had recommended that Nzimande appoint an administrator for Unisa and relieve the administration, led by LenkaBula, of their duties.
The staffers and students argue that the matter brought by Unisa was heard on an urgent basis and the interdict was granted immediately but the justice system fails to enrol and hear the minister’s application.
“Contrary, Unisa council and management was afforded a special privilege of having their matter (urgent application) 5 October 2023 heard and enrolled within less than 24 hours. The court showed a historical efficiency in light of other urgent applications not being afforded the same privileges...We are not in any way suggesting that the courts are captured but it becomes a thinking point that this happens the same week Constitutional Chief Justice and his deputy were awarded honorary doctorates by Unisa,” the parties say.
Attempts to get comment from Unisa and the office of chief justice were unsuccessful at the time of going to print.