Newspaper interdicted from publishing audit on UKZN admissions scam

2017-08-06 15:11
(UKZN)

(UKZN)

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Durban - A forensic audit report, which apparently lays bare the details of a syndicate selling places at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Nelson R Mandela Medical School, will remain under wraps until at least next month.

This is the effect of an urgent interim interdict granted by KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Durban Judge Gregory Kruger in an after-hours application brought by the university against the Sunday Tribune, which is owned by Independent Media.

The newspaper has been doggedly following the story since earlier this year. Arrests have already been made, computers belonging to about 200 staff members have been seized and Vice-Chancellor Dr Albert van Jaarsveld told a recent media briefing that nearly 300 staffers were under investigation.

Places at the medical school are highly sought-after and a strict racial quota is applied, with very few places reserved for Indian and white would-be-doctors.

The interim interdict, which prevents publication of a KPMG report commissioned by the university, was granted on Saturday afternoon, just hours before the weekly newspaper was to be printed.

It was granted in the absence of the newspaper’s attorney, who is based in a different city and whose request to be heard over the telephone was declined.

The university was represented by Advocate Megan Sponneck.

The return date for the application is September 5.

Affidavit

In his affidavit, Van Jaarsveld said the workings of the syndicate - selling places and exam papers - had come to his attention last year.

"As investigations unfolded, it transpired that a family, who owns Little Gujarat restaurant in Durban, worked in partnership with a syndicate at the university to enrol students at the medical school.

"We were determined to identify students who had bought their way in and to identify key role players in the syndicate."

He said KPMG had been hired to assist, which resulted in the family being arrested.

"The next phase was to identify key role players. Parents, staff and students with knowledge of the illegal activities were encouraged to come forward.

"It was public knowledge that any person found to have participated or benefited would face criminal prosecution," Van Jaarsveld said.

"We are extremely concerned about the impact this scandal will have on our reputation and have attempted to improve procedures and practices to reduce risk. We have also opened an anonymous hotline."

'Release will jeopardise the investigation'

He said the KPMG report was private and confidential and “highly sensitive” because the investigation was ongoing.

"Its release will jeopardise the investigation….it may render it an exercise in futility.

"We are entitled to an interdict to protect confidential information from being released to the public. It is a violation of the applicant’s right to its own personal information."

He said he had become aware of the newspaper’s intentions to publish the report’s contents by a post on social media. The university had not been contacted for comment.

The university’s lawyers had immediately contacted the newspaper’s editor and its lawyers.

Further posts were then put on social media, speaking of the threat of an interdict and claiming it was a threat to media freedom.

"This post shows a total disregard for the sensitivity of the issue at hand. It will derail and jeopardise the entire investigation.

Opportunity to comment

"It is also imperative that the applicant be afforded an opportunity to comment in order for the truth to be obtained."

Van Jaarsveld said "of concern" was that a reporter had made contact with an employee whose computer has been confiscated.

In turn, that employee had contacted her union which was now questioning how it was possible that names were available to the media before the union had received all the names of those to be suspended.

"It is causing turmoil within the employees who are being subjected to public scrutiny without themselves being aware of the state of affairs….there is no reason why the article should be published at this point in time."

Sunday Tribune Editor Mazwi Xaba, in his own newspaper, said: "The matter is of enormous public interest. We can’t understand what all the secrecy is about. We will comply with the order until we can have a fair hearing as soon as possible."

Read more on:    ukzn  |  durban  |  education  |  crime

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