Fort Hare under threat: Management will only meet with Nzimande once security services give go-ahead

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Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande.
Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande.
Darren Stewart/Gallo Images
  • Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande says his department will establish a task force to ensure employee safety at the University of Fort Hare.
  • Nzimande visited the university on Wednesday.
  • This follows murders and attempts on the lives of its employees. 

The Department of Higher Education and Training will establish a national task force dedicated to ensuring the safety of employees at universities, Minister Blade Nzimande said on Wednesday.

Nzimande announced this move during his controversial visit to the University of Fort Hare in the Eastern Cape. 

The minister briefed the media on threats against the institution's vice-chancellor and its staff, although the university issued a statement indicating the members of its management executive committee (MEC) were not available to meet with Nzimande.

It said it was in "a state of mourning" and that the MEC members were "attending to the needs of those affected by the death of a colleague".

Last week, Vice-Chancellor Sakhela Buhlungu survived a possible murder attempt that claimed the life of his bodyguard Mboneli Vesele.

The shooting happened outside Buhlungu's residence in Alice. He was subsequently moved to a safe location.

READ | Task team to probe 'pattern of threats on the lives of staff' at University of Fort Hare

Buhlungu, appointed for a second term last year, has been widely credited for fighting against corruption and maladministration at the embattled university. 

The attempt on his life follows a shooting at his house in March 2022.

Other staff members targeted in the same period were his deputy Renuka Vithal and office manager Zuki Mabombo.

In May, the university's fleet manager, Peet Roets, was killed after leaving the institution's Alice campus.

It's believed his efforts to expose corruption in the university's fleet network may have led to his murder.

Nzimande said while the links between the attacks and corruption were concerning, the cause remained a mystery:

We are concerned because, in the discussions with students and the SRC, one of the things they have identified is that they are not certain why there is this violence. They hear this is caused by the fight against corruption, but they don't have adequate information.

The minister also denied inaction following the murder of Roets.

"When Mr Roets was assassinated, we made sure police took up the matter. That was the initiative from our department, over and above the reporting made by the university. We also sent a staff member to represent us at the memorial service of Mr Roets," he said.

In its statement ahead of Nzimande's visit, Fort Hare said its security and protection services were concerned about the MEC members returning to campus "before the institution's more far-reaching and robust security programme is rolled out" following the murder of Vesele and the attempt on Buhlungu's life.

It said it would therefore not be in a position to meet the minister this week.

"The university remains open to meetings next week after the conclusion of the funeral and memorial services, and once the new security protocols and programmes have been activated," read the statement.

Nzimande said the government would fight corruption at higher learning institutions, and had a strong message for criminals.

"They won't win. We are very determined. These institutions are about the future of our youth. They are not for thieves to feed themselves."

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