Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University vice-chancellor Professor Peter Mbati still has allegations of sexual harassment hanging over his head. Jacques Naude African News Agency (ANA)
Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University vice-chancellor Professor Peter Mbati still has allegations of sexual harassment hanging over his head. Jacques Naude African News Agency (ANA)

Probe into whether Univen followed protocol when ex-vice-chancellor was accused of rape, sexual harassment

By Bongani Nkosi Time of article published Feb 17, 2021

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Johannesburg - Former University of Venda (Univen) council chairperson Shirley Mabusela faces parliamentary subpoena proceedings intended to force her to testify in the inquiry into the university’s ex-vice-chancellor.

On Tuesday, Parliament’s portfolio committee on higher education kicked off its probe into the appointment of Professor Peter Mbati as vice-chancellor of Sefako Makgatho University (SMU).

The highly rated Mbati was formerly vice-chancellor of Univen. The inquiry under way looked specifically into the misconduct allegations that he faced dating back to 2011.

The committee launched the probe into Mbati after SMU appointed him as its new vice-chancellor last year.

Former Univen school of education dean Professor Sylvia Thidziambi Phendla-Tshivhase levelled sexual harassment allegations against Mbati in 2011. But the chairperson of Univen’s council during that time, Mabusela, snubbed the inquiry, according to the portfolio committee’s chairperson, Phillemon Mapulane.

“I must say that some of the witnesses, in particular two of the former chairpersons of (Univen) council – Mrs Mabusela and the other former chairperson – have indicated that they are not willing to come and participate,” Mapulane said in his inquiry opening statement.

Mapulane, who was also chairing the inquiry, said subpoena proceedings would be launched.

“It is the view of the committee that we should initiate a process to subpoena them and get them to come and testify,” he said. “Fortunately we were still identifying an extra day or two to get one or two witnesses, including Professor Mbati, to come and give testimony.

“I think we’re agreeing with the suggestion that we should subpoena them … especially Mrs Mabusela, who was presiding over council when all these matters were happening.

“We will work closely with our legal services to undertake that process.”

Mapulane said Mabusela should account for whether Univen implemented to the fullest its sexual harassment policy following Phendla-Tshivhase’s complaint.

“The information we have suggests that the university did not do that,” he said.

Mapulane said that Univen had been directed by court to implement its sexual harassment policy.

“But council on its own did not have the appetite to implement that sexual harassment policy. We want to find out why. That information we’ll get from the (former) chairperson of council (Mabusela),” said Mapulane.

The Star’s attempts to reach Mabusela for comment on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Phendla-Tshivhase, a highly rated Fulbright scholar, levelled the sexual harassment allegations during a disciplinary hearing at Univen.

It was a finding of the Labour Court in 2017 that she had complained during a disciplinary proceeding.

The university disciplined and eventually fired her on allegations that she had taken a R1 000 bribe for awarding of a cleaning contract at Univen.

Phendla-Tshivhase told the Labour Court that the charges against her were trumped up after she refused to continue having sex with Mbati.

She told the court that she had a “coerced” sexual relationship with Mbati. She said this had started in 2008, when Mbati proposed a sexual relationship. Phendla-Tshivhase maintained that she turned him down, but he started touching her all over her body and raped her.

Sexual escapades between them continued for two years. Phendla-Tshivhase told the court that she terminated the relationship when her marriage was on the brink of collapsing, and her husband was becoming suspicious. Mbati has always denied sexually harassing and raping Phendla-Tshivhase.

Judge Graham Moshoana ruled that Phendla-Tshivhase was not convincing that she had been subjected to sexual harassment.

“It may well be so that (Phendla-Tshivhase) and Professor Mbati had a consensual relationship which, like many other relationships, hit a rough patch,” he said.

The Star

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