Nzimande goes to court

2012-07-21 18:44

University council fights its dissolution

The fight between Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande and the dissolved council of Bloemfontein’s Central University of Technology (CUT) has gone to court.

The Bloemfontein High Court heard arguments on Thursday and Friday after the council applied to have Nzimande’s decision to dissolve it and place the institution under administration declared invalid.

Nzimande has filed a counterapplication asking the court to uphold his decision.

CUT lawyer Jeremy Gauntlett told the court this week that Nzimande gave no reasons for his decision and based it entirely on a report that was “seriously flawed”.

Gauntlett said the council’s lengthy, detailed response to independent assessor Professor Julian Smith’s report was also not considered.

Nzimande, Gauntlett argued, exceeded his powers when he dissolved the council.

The minister appointed Smith in March this year to investigate allegations of power abuse and financial irregularities at CUT.

Part of the investigation centred on the CUT Services and Enterprises Trust.

The department told City Press last week that a financial expert believed “it would seem inherently wrong that CUT’s commercial activities should be hived off to a trust”.

On June 20, Nzimande announced that CUT had been placed under administration and Professor Stanley Ridge had been appointed as its administrator.

He also dissolved the council and placed vice-chancellor Professor Thandwa Mthembu on special leave pending the outcome of further investigation.

But the council prevented Ridge from entering the campus and has taken Nzimande to court to overrule him.

Paul Kennedy, representing Nzimande, argued before Judge Johann Daffue on Friday that the minister had been seriously misled by the council.

Kennedy said the council had failed for over a year to address serious internal problems, despite intervention.

He said the council had ordered two investigations, but had failed to get the reports or respond properly despite numerous requests from the minister for feedback.

Kennedy told Judge Daffue that it was wrong for the council to approach the court and that the cost of their application should not come from university funds.

“There is a serious concern when it comes to the right of the council to go to court and use public funds. The council cannot use university funds to fight its own battle,” Kennedy said.

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