A statutory body at the University of Fort Hare representing alumni has questioned a move by Higher Education and Training Minister Naledi Pandor to appoint an administrator without consulting university stakeholders.
City Press has learnt that president of the convocation at the university, Solomzi Tshona, has written to Pandor also questioning the legality of processes followed before putting the university under administrator Professor Loyiso Nongxa.
In a statement to Pandor and members of the convocation sent out yesterday, and seen by City Press, Tshona also cited a court case which was won by Central University of Technology (CUT) against Pandor’s predecessor, Blade Nzimande, when he attempted to dissolve that university’s council and appoint an administrator in 2012.
Nzimande announced at the time that he would appeal that judgment.
But it remained unclear whether Nzimande ever did appeal because Pandor’s spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele had not responded at the time of writing.
Ngqengelele had indicated to City Press that he would respond to questions, including that of the legality of processes followed by Pandor.
This story will be updated once a response has been received.
Tshona also warned that the convocation and alumni couldn’t provide support to Nongxa until Pandor had answered their questions relating to the legality of her decision.
This came after director-general for higher education Gwebinkundla Qonde met with university management and student leadership at the university’s campus in East London yesterday where he announced that a full scale independent probe would be instituted to look into allegations of maladministration and corruption.
Also yesterday, the South African Student Union – a body representing the country’s students – pledged its support for Nongxa.
Pandor announced Nongxa’s appointment on Friday.
The university’s statute, which was signed in 2010 by Nzimande, described the convocation as constituting the vice-chancellor and principal, deputy vice-chancellors, registrar, deans, academic employees on permanent staff of the university, professors emeriti, retired academic employees, all graduates or diplomates of the university and such other persons as council may determine.
Tshona, who was elected to the convocation presidency in November last year, confirmed to City Press this morning that he sent the statement to Pandor, the convocation and alumni.
Asked whether the convocation had been dissolved following Pandor’s action to disband council, Tshona said the convocation was still in place because it was a statutory body.
“Convocation is a structure of all the convocants or alumni. The convocation forms part of the university council just like the student representative council, institutional forum and senate. The dissolution of the council does not affect convocation,” Tshona said.
When asked if Pandor had responded to their questions and whether the convocation was satisfied with her response, Tshona said: “It is not a matter of us being satisfied but assisting in making sure that the processes are being followed. The step we are going to take is to call a meeting with all the convocants or alumni of the university to seek for an amicable solution for our beloved alma mater.
“As convocation or alumni we welcome Professor Nongxa to take up the task ahead but we seek for a right process to be followed. That is of consultation with stakeholders of the university.”
In a statement to members of the convocation, alumni and Pandor, Tshona said convocants and alumni occupy a special role at the university by being the intellectual reservoir that must jealously guard the interests of their alma mater in everything that happens.
“In doing so, we must ask critical questions, provide direction and leadership on critical strategic, management and governance imperatives of the university as and when situations require us to. It is therefore logical that we must take keen interest in the decision of the minister to put the university under administration and thus dissolving the university council.”
He said some of the questions, which many convocants and alumni had relayed to him since hearing of Pandor’s decisions, were:
• What was the rational of Pandor’s decision to put Fort Hare under administration;
• What purpose does it serve to dissolve council and replace it with the administrator whilst retaining the vice-chancellor/CEO as outlined in the Higher Education Act;
• What process did the minister follow in arriving at this decision taking into account that such matters are legally regulated in terms of the Higher Education Act;
• Can the minister’s decision withstand legal scrutiny; and
• What about the allegations that are hanging over some within the executive management and council members that relates to nepotism, conflict of interest, collapse of governance structures, among others, as witnessed with the widely circulated different communiques?
Tshona said, as a key stakeholder, convocation must at the very least attempt to analyse the situation and attempt to answer some of these questions.
“While I may not be in a possession to answer all of the above questions to everyone’s satisfaction, I have received some serious concerns,” he said.
These concerns included:
• “While the state of affairs within the university’s governance system leaves much to be desired, it must be noted that whatever process that seeks to provide solutions and stability within the university, including invoking some powers by the minister, such must be done within the confines of the law.
“It is concerning that, this decision was done haphazardly, without any consultation with us as one of the stakeholders or any other stakeholders in the university for that matter”;
• “If the university is put under administration on the basis that, governance systems have collapsed, who is responsible for governance within the university? Without doubt, council and executive management are responsible for governance within the university. If this be the case, how do you say there has been governance collapse, and yet retain the same executive management responsible for the governance collapse? This is worrisome to say the least, moreover when those amongst the same management are having serious allegations of misconduct against their names. Doesn’t this raise something amiss about the minister’s decision?”; and
• “Can we genuinely believe that the same people responsible for governance collapse will be able to rescue the university and restore its governance systems under the appointed administrator? What about the untested allegations of maladministration against the vice-chancellor? Who will facilitate a process to test these beyond reasonable doubt?”
He said the convocants and alumni’s “genuine concerns” have been duly noted and timely communicated to Pandor to seek for relevant answers.
“If we are to give our objective support to the decision of the minister, the above critical questions need to be answered. We also need to be assured that her decision can withstand legal scrutiny, so that unlike the precedent set in the case of CUT versus Nzimande, the university is not exposed to unnecessary litigation. In reading the CUT judgment, you would note that the minister then had undertaken certain steps in accordance with the law, but still lost the case on the basis he had no authority to dissolve the council in the manner he did,” Tshona said.
He said the situation at Fort Hare was even worse because he, as convocation president and a council representative, never had a meeting with Pandor.
“The council had never received any notice of the minister’s intention to dissolve the council and put the university under administration. The council had never met to discuss such notice from the minister, and attempt to provide reasons why this should or should not be the case. I am flagging this because the minister’s decision as a public official constitute an administration action, and therefore in terms of the Higher Education Act and Promotion of Administrative Justice Act, the above is expected at the very least,” he said.
As things stand, Tshona said, tempting as it is to support the appointment of Nongxa, the convocation cannot provide “support blankly to the minister until we assured the decision withstands legal scrutiny and complies with the Higher Education Act”.