Nzimande and D-G fall out

2010-10-18 00:00

JOHANNESBURG — Higher Education and Training director-general Mary Metcalfe is reportedly set to quit following a nasty fallout with minister Blade Nzimande.

Three sources in the education field, all of them in government, say Nzimande has demanded that Metcalfe resign after barely a year in her position.

Two government officials who are aware of a meeting that took place last week and where the director-general’s resignation was ­discussed, told City Press that Nzimande ­informed Metcalfe that he no longer trusts her and that she should leave.

Nzimande and Metcalfe had previously worked together in a United Democratic Front structure, the National Education Co-ordinating Committee and at the ANC’s national post-secondary education initiative.

Things are said to be so bad that Metcalfe is looking at leaving at the end of the current financial year next March, or even earlier.

An education official said Metcalfe had quit her job at Wits to join the department and is upset that “an impression would be created that she has done something wrong” if she leaves.

The source said Metcalfe was “taken aback and shocked” at Nzimande’s demand for her resignation, which has since sent shock waves through the new department.

The source said it is not clear what has made Nzimande demand Metcalfe’s resignation and on what information he based his ­mistrust of the director general.

The source said Nzimande is “paranoid” and believes there is a cabal within the ­department that is working against him.

Another education official said Metcalfe had in the past few weeks questioned the cost of an overseas trip Nzimande was to undertake.

The trip to Cuba was postponed ­after Metcalfe questioned what appeared to be inflated prices that would have cost the department more than R1 million.

On Saturday, Metcalfe would neither confirm nor deny that she had been asked to leave.

“The only thing I am prepared to say publicly is that I have not resigned. The work of the department is critical to the future of the country and I am carrying on with work,” she said.

Nzimande’s special adviser, Gwebs Qonde, said: “It is absolutely incorrect and we are going to issue a statement on Monday on the matter. The minister has never ever asked the director-general to resign. No, no, no; he has never done that.”

Asked to comment on other allegations, including the postponed trip to Cuba, Qonde pleaded for more time.

“All your questions will be answered on Monday when you will hear the department’s position,” he said.

The first official said Nzimande’s suspicion of a conspiracy was allegedly sparked by revelations of his stay at the luxurious Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town last year.

The source said Nzimande also felt that ­Metcalfe is dragging her feet in hiring blacks in senior positions.

Since her appointment Metcalfe has filled two vacancies with black deputy directors-general, while a third one rejected the job after ­going through the interviews, the source said.

Tshwane University of Technology deputy vice-chancellor of research, innovation and partnerships, Prince Nevhutalu, was tipped to take over one of the senior posts in the department, but he allegedly declined it.

Nevhutalu told City Press he and the department had been involved in negotiations, but that they hada fizzled down due to lack of progress.

A source outside the department but within the education field said: “Blade’s advisers have limited or no experience in higher education.”

Metcalfe, a former Gauteng Education MEC, had a stint as a senior academic at Wits University, where some apparently questioned her appointment because she does not have a PhD.

“All was not well there and maybe the minister wants to counteract this lack of experience.”

He cited Dr Molapo Qhobela, the former deputy director-general for higher education, as having had a fallout with Metcalfe, since leaving to join his former minister, Naledi Pandor, at the department of Science and Technology.

Metcalfe confirmed she did not have a PhD and that Wits knew that when she was appointed.

She also said she has great respect for Nzimande’s advisers.

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