Higher Education Minister Naledi Pandor has been accused of packing her things and suddenly ending a meeting with representatives of an advocacy group after she told them that she was not paid to meet with them at the University of Zululand (UniZulu).
The accusation is contained in a complaint to the Presidency which was filed against Pandor by Save UniZulu – an advocacy group comprising concerned senior academics and staff at the university.
Pandor is accused of having “inhumanly treated” Save UniZulu representatives during a meeting at the university last Sunday.
Save UniZulu is made up of whistleblowers, which over the years have raised allegations of corruption and maladministration against the university’s management to the department of higher of education and training (DHET).
Last Sunday, Pandor had meetings with university stakeholders as part of a broader plan to familiarise herself with universities.
Pandor was appointed last month by President Cyril Ramaphosa and took over from Hlengiwe Mkhize, who is currently an ordinary member of the ANC in Parliament.
However, according to Save UniZulu, their meeting with Pandor ended before it started.
“Despite this invitation, the minister chased Save UniZulu from the meeting before we were able to present ... we were shocked and horrified that a member of your Parliament could treat citizens of the Republic of SA in such a manner,” Save UniZulu secretary general Josephine Naicker wrote in the letter addressed to Ramaphosa.
Naicker confirmed that the group had written to Ramaphosa asking for his intervention to appoint an independent investigator or the office of the Auditor-General to conduct a probe at the university.
The group had lost confidence that Pandor would institute the probe after she allegedly indicated at a media briefing last Sunday after a meeting with management that “all was well” at the university, Naicker said.
She said Pandor’s statement that “all was well” gave an indication to the group that she “was merely trying to silence our calls for an independent investigation by scheduling this meeting with us, but never having the intention to actually engage us”.
Detailing what allegedly transpired at the meeting, Naicker said Pandor ended the meeting after she requested that a panel introduce themselves to Save UniZulu representatives “in order that I would be able to capture this in my minutes”.
She said this was after three Save UniZulu representatives had introduced themselves.
“We believe that this was in line with meeting etiquette and a fair request. The minister [who chaired the meeting] thereafter told us that the meeting was over and we were disrespecting her. She raised her voice and indicated that she is the chairperson of the meeting and won’t allow anyone else to chair her meeting. The chairperson indicated that ‘she was not being paid to be here’. At no stage did we as Save UniZulu attempt to chair the meeting or show disrespect to the minister. We asked the chairperson if she was chasing us away from the meeting, whereupon she started packing her things. We thereafter exited,” Naicker said.
However, Pandor’s spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele denied all allegations made by Save UniZulu to the presidency.
Ngqengelele said Naicker had refused to allow Pandor to chair the meeting.
“She interrupted to a point where the minister felt it was impossible to have a conversation and closed the meeting. The lady [Naicker] came to that meeting with preconceived ideas. She did not want to listen to the minister. Naicker wanted to get her way and that should be the only way. Ours was to find out what is happening at the university.”
He said allegations that Pandor had a position on what was happening at UniZulu were lies because it was her idea to meet with everyone there.
When asked about the complaint filed to the presidency, Ngqengelele said Pandor’s record in the public service spoke for itself.
He said Pandor’s interest was to find a solution for UniZulu and she would make an announcement on the way forward if necessary.
Presidency spokesperson Khusela Diko said the presidency was not aware of Save UniZulu’s letter.
This was despite Rahima Shaik, personal support director in the office of the deputy president, acknowledging receipt of the letter on Monday to Naicker and indicating that her colleagues would respond to it.
Shaik said it was possible that Diko had no knowledge of the letter because it had not been communicated to her office.
She said an official in the presidency, copied in the emails communication with City Press, would possibly forward it to Diko for a response.
But a response had not been received from the presidency at the time of writing.