Vice-chancellor ‘sabotaging’ rape case

2017-07-23 06:04
Professor Xoliswa Mtose

Professor Xoliswa Mtose

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A key witness who claims he was forced to resign at the University of Zululand (UniZulu) after witnessing a student allegedly being raped by a senior academic is accusing the institution of defaming his name with allegations that he was fired for plagiarism.

The witness, who cannot be named to protect the identity of the student who was allegedly raped on campus by her professor, said he had instead resigned to protect his family, who were being threatened.

Meanwhile, the student’s family has denied that they begged the university to drop the probe as claimed by the university to City Press in June when it broke the story.

A family member disputed the university’s version of events, which was repeated in adverts placed in a Sunday newspaper, that the family had asked UniZulu vice-chancellor Professor Xoliswa Mtose not to pursue the probe any further.

“We were the ones that told her (the student) to report to the university as a start. Why tell her to report it if we don’t want this unravelled or investigated? It just doesn’t make sense,” the family said.

It has emerged that after the student had laid charges of rape against him, the senior academic accused the witness of plagiarism and gross dishonesty, leading to disciplinary action against him.

The witness told City Press he was aggrieved that vice-chancellor Mtose had stated the allegations against him as fact in newspaper adverts published on June 18 and 25. He said this was defamation of character.

The alleged victim’s family said the university seemed to be “indirectly trying to sabotage” their quest for justice by “attacking the witness whose only offence was to walk into that office, which saved our daughter from his colleague who was violating her”.

The family said it would consider other legal options should Mtose continue blocking their efforts.

Intimidation

Adrian Moodley of Derik Jaftha Attorneys, representing the witness, said their client resigned from the university in March and received a certificate of service from the institution stating resignation as the reason for the end of his service.

“This contrasts the misinformation [Mtose] now feeds the public. Knowing that the vice-chancellor normally signs and issues dismissal letters herself, it is within her knowledge that our client was not [dismissed under such conditions].

“Mtose also does not have in her possession any recordings of any disciplinary hearing in which a dismissal conclusion was reached, much less to claim that our client was dismissed after due legal process. The only reasonable conclusion is that this dishonesty is a deliberate act to undermine the rape case,” Moodley said.

He said their client was forced to resign as he and his family were facing intimidation over the rape case. The witness’ family was confronted by men at their home in an effort to strike fear into them, Moodley said.

“Therefore, the reasons for our client’s resignation had nothing to do with the allegation of plagiarism. Instead of protecting our client, immediately after the alleged rape case was brought to their attention the university allowed the accused professor to lay a false plagiarism charge against our client a few weeks after he had allegedly raped a student, which our client was a witness to,” he said.

He said the university then appointed the same professor to represent it in the plagiarism tribunal against their client.

“Our client was tortured psychologically and emotionally with this false charge for over six months. However, the university abandoned the charge abruptly as our client was proving his case on 24 March 2017,” he said, adding that the plagiarism charge against his client was a false charge. Instead, he said, the witness had co-authored papers and a book with a PhD student he was supervising at the time, and there was evidence of contracts and email correspondence. “The documents were available for
anyone to see, yet the university attempted to tag it plagiarism,” he said.

Moodley said the university acted in bad faith to bring a witness of an alleged rape on UniZulu campus to physical danger, disrepute and probably undermine the rape case itself”.

On behalf of their client, he said they would proceed with the defamation case and report the false allegations to the department of higher education and training, the Council on Higher Education, the Commission for Gender Equality and the SA Human Rights Commission.

UniZulu spokesperson Gcina Nhleko-Mdluli insisted that the witness was found guilty by the university’s plagiarism committee and that the witness left the employ of the university after due legal process was followed. “His case was in no way linked to the allegations that form part of your [alleged rape] story and, instead, concerned charges of plagiarism and gross dishonesty.

After being formally charged with misconduct for plagiarism, he stated that he was resigning with immediate effect. He was advised that, in terms of his contract of employment, he was expected to serve a month’s notice and that, therefore, the disciplinary hearing would proceed. Unfortunately, delays on his part meant that the disciplinary process could not be concluded before the required 30-day notice period lapsed.”

Nhleko-Mdluli said Mtose welcomed confirmation from the Empangeni family violence, child protection and sexual offences unit that a rape case had been opened at the Mtunzini Police Station in March this year.

The spokesperson said the university had appointed an external forensic firm to probe the allegations. However, the student and her family did not respond to the firm’s “extensive correspondence via email and telephone”.

“The university was compelled to pause its investigation as it had no credible evidence to pursue the matter. In the absence of the complainant and or evidence implicating the two academics, the university did not have legal grounds to take the matter further,” she said.

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