Unisa students plead with Nzimande to deal with maladministration allegations

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Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande.Photo: Kopano Tlape/GCIS
Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande.Photo: Kopano Tlape/GCIS


“Communism and Marxism are in you unless things have changed,” reads a memo sent by a group referring to themselves as students at Unisa to Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande’s office.

This was part of their emotive appeal to Nzimande, who was recently elected as the chairperson of the SA Communist Party, to intervene at Unisa.

READ: Blade Nzimande: I did my best

City Press understands that these students sent the memo to Nzimande’s office on Friday, and they had acted independently from the student representative council (SRC).

Officials in Nzimande’s department, according to information that City Press received on Saturday, were aware of the students’ letter.

In their memorandum to Nzimande, which City Press has seen, students said they were concerned about the alleged maladministration of public funds and bad publicity “our beloved university is suffering from”.

Nzimande’s spokesperson Ishmael Mnisi confirmed that the memo was received and that they were going through its contents.

Mnisi said:

As you might be aware, Minister Nzimande has indicated through a media briefing he held at the end of June that he will be announcing his decision on the Unisa issues publicly, particularly on the Unisa ministerial task team report and recommendations.

Mnisi said when Nzimande appointed the ministerial task team last year, he was concerned about Unisa gradually experiencing a “mission-drift” whereby it was becoming more “full time”, yet there had never been a plan supported by government in favour of such a move.

“The issue of ‘mission drift’ has massive implications for the financial sustainability and future of Unisa. It also has materially significant implications for government for both subsidy and student financial aid support – as we have seen at the start of the 2020 academic year when segments of the student community made demands for near full-time equivalent National Financial Aid Scheme support from government.

“Similarly, mission drift will impose major pressures on infrastructure, teaching staff and a host of other [things],” he said.

READ: Msindisi Fengu | Unisa's descent into chaos

Nzimande also raised the importance of making a rigorous assessment of how the fourth industrial revolution and its associated shifts would affect aspects of the academic mission, academic programmes, markets and operating models of local universities, especially Unisa.

Nzimande's concerns include:
  • That there has been no comprehensive reflection on the implications of new technologies on the operations of the university;
  • There have been concerns raised regarding the quality of offerings or programmes;
  • The persistent problem of Unisa’s unacceptably high student failure rates, as well as the de-accreditation of some of its academic programmes; and
  • The instability in the senior management team, which was a matter of great concern.

“The ministerial task team has made its findings and recommendations which went beyond the minister’s concerns. This is the reason the minister will make his determination based on the recommendations of the task team,” Mnisi said.

Unisa had not responded to questions from City Press by the time of publication.

‘You’re a communist’

In part, the students said in the memo that this was not the first time they had raise these concerns, and it would not be the last unless the situation improved at Unisa and public funds were safeguarded.

READ: Private firm’s push for Unisa audit

Unisa, they said, is a public institution subsidised by taxpayers.

“Any mishandling of public funds should be reported to avert taxpayers from carrying a burden of tax and VAT hikes. Honourable Minister, we took our time and watched older videos of yourself; we must indicate that you were vocal, resolute and a fighter and we believe that nothing has changed. Communism and Marxism are in you unless things have changed.

READ: Blade must dissolve Unisa Council - Mannya

“We thereby conclude by a plea and we wish to say to your office that intervention to save Unisa is of importance. The ministerial task team made recommendations, audit firms, law firms, unions, the voice of citizens and students, the list is endless. Unisa must be saved from demise,” the memo reads.

‘Don’t allow Unisa to collapse’

In part, the students said Nzimande’s office would agree about the impairment and financial catastrophe that state capture caused in the country.

They said the task team found the same issues identified by audit firm Ernst & Young earlier this year.

“This can’t be a coincidence, but a clear signal that Unisa has serious encounters,” the memo reads.

As students, they alleged that their leaders (the SRC) were prohibited from advancing matters that affect students.

They said several high-profile academics had gone public about their concerns about Unisa.

READ: Dissolve ‘problematic’ Unisa council and place university under administration, ministerial task team recommends

They said South Africa witnessed the downfall of state-owned enterprises and some municipalities across the country due to state capture, and Unisa should not be allowed to follow the same path.

“Unisa is frequently in the media regarding serious allegations of maladministration and failures of governance systems, and this might lead to the demise of this great university if not attended with necessary force. Honourable Minister, we believe that you will consider your position concerning Unisa and act by powers vested in you to save Unisa.”

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