ICYMI: How Unisa VC outwitted minister Nzimande

Unisa Vice-chancellor Puleng LenkaBula. | Thobile Mathonsi Independent Newspapers

Unisa Vice-chancellor Puleng LenkaBula. | Thobile Mathonsi Independent Newspapers

Published Dec 29, 2023


The Vice Chancellor of the University of South Africa (Unisa), Professor Puleng LenkaBula, along with the entire Unisa board, managed to evade what many perceived as the most significant threat to the 150-year-old institution of higher learning.

This came after the Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Technology, Dr Blade Nzimande, expressed his intention to place the beleaguered institution under administration. However, at the last minute, he was legally prevented from proceeding with his decision.

This was in spite of two damning reports flagging a series of maladministration and governance challenges at the university.

When LenkaBula was appointed by the Unisa council, on January 1, 2021, as the new principal and vice-chancellor of Unisa, the moment was hailed as a h(i) erstorical moment for both Unisa and the country as she became the first woman, the first black woman and only the third black person to be appointed as head of Unisa.

This was an epic moment, however, a mere year later, things started to turn from bad to worse after the five reports seemed to suggest that the university was in a precipice.

According to Independent Media, the five reports listed damning allegations of maladministration and other challenges. One of the reports flagged incidents of sexual harassment, another flagged irregularities in the procurement of individual laptops, the procurement of data, salary adjustments, and another one which found the VC to have erred in the renovations to the official VC residence known as Cloghereen.

It is reported that these renovations cost the university over R2 million including the purchase of expensive curtains, tiles and other luxurious amenities.

In total, according to a report by Independent Media, there were five reports which were compiled by the ministerial task team in 2020 and formed the core of Professor Themba Mosia’s Independent Assessor Report after Mosia was appointed to probe these issues in September 2022.

In spite of all the damning evidence, LenkaBula and her team have survived to tell the tale after the minister last month was interdicted from acting on the recommendations of the Mosia’s report which had recommended the dissolution of the board and that the institution be placed under administration.

This came after the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, ruling which ordered the minister to overturn his decision following Unisa’s court interdict against the move.

The court found that the decision to appoint an administrator was unlawful and in breach of previous court orders.

Nzimande had placed Unisa under administration and appointed former University of Johannesburg Vice-Chancellor Professor Ihron Rensburg as Unisa administrator.

Early this year, a report by Mosia indicated that Unisa had been plagued by a series of maladministration challenges including instances of corruption and supply chain challenges.

The report also accused the Unisa council and LenkaBula of poor management, maladministration and displaying an authoritarian management style which resulted in the advent of a culture of fear, intimidation and bullying.

Following the court interdict, Unisa said it was vindicated by the high court ruling which set aside the minister's intention to place the institution under administration.

“The University of South Africa notes and welcomes the announcement by the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, published in the government gazette No.497227, which confirms his decision to withdraw the notice published in the government gazette No.49582, which announced the decision to appoint an administrator for the university,” Unisa had said.

The Star