Gauteng health sciences varsity defends appointment of new VC, despite looming legal action


The Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University (SMU) has defended the appointment of Professor Peter Mbati as vice-chancellor, despite looming legal action.

"Prof Mbati’s appointment was procedurally fair, and the process leading up to his appointment was in line with the provisions of the Higher Education Act, SMU Institutional Statute and applicable university polices," director of communications Dr Eric Pule said in a statement on Monday.

The SMU council appointed Mbati to the position on 24 April. He will assume his role on 1 June.

"Prof Mbati is fit and proper to assume the role of the vice-chancellor of SMU, and has demonstrable and requisite experience for the position," Pule added.

Legal action

This comes after the Higher Education Transformation Network (HETN) indicated its intention to initiate legal action against SMU for the decision, claiming that Mbati "is not fit and proper for the role of vice-chancellor".

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The HETN said in a statement on 14 May that the objective of the planned litigation was to urgently interdict the SMU council from proceeding with the appointment.

"We reiterate our view that the SMU cannot be allowed to proceed with the above appointment, as the recruitment process is flawed and the appointment is not in line with the objectives set by the National Development Plan Vision 2030, which states that the higher education sector [must] 'ensure that black South Africans and women make up 50% of the reaching and research staff of universities'," the network said in its statement.

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It further cited the institution’s alleged refusal to furnish it with the requested records in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) Act 2 of 2000, as well as providing written reasons in terms of the PAJA Act 3 of 2000.

In another statement on 13 May, the institution said it wanted to debunk several "myths" surrounding the appointment of Mbati, one of which stated that "Mbati is not experienced enough to be appointed to the position of vice-chancellor and does not have the requisite integrity to lead the institution".

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The SMU said Mbati's "impeccable credentials and performance record as an institutional leader for more than a decade puts him in good stead to lead the university".

Cleared of allegations

In addition, the council states that allegations leveled at Mbati were investigated and that it was found that he had been cleared by a court of law.

"It is deeply troubling to observe the emerging narrative and what seems to be a coordinated campaign, in both the media and public discourse, to cast aspersions on the credibility and legitimacy of these processes, and the integrity of Prof Mbati.

"Although these acts can be easily dismissed as signs of desperation or ignorance on the part of those who drive the campaign, when it appears to be coordinated, calculated and timely, the university community and South Africa as a whole should be worried. It is very clear that this campaign seeks to drag the good name of the council, university and Prof Mbati through the mud," council chairperson Maria Rambauli said. 

The institution has further indicated that it will strongly oppose any legal action.

"Whilst the HETN has the right to exercise its legal rights as enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act of 1996, if it believes that there are compelling grounds to take legal action against SMU, the university shall strongly and factually oppose such and action if it were to arise," Pule said.

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