The University of Zululand is under attack for its plans to confer a second honorary doctorate on King Goodwill Zwelithini.
The university plans to honour the Zulu king at the university’s special graduation ceremony at the Kwa-Dlangezwa Campus in Empangeni – 16km from Richards Bay – on Friday. It bestowed an honorary doctorate in agriculture on the king in 1994 for his role in promoting agriculture.
But senior academics have expressed doubt about the university’s intentions, accusing it of bending over backwards to honour the king so that he will approve the land on which the institution is built transferred to its name.
The university said this week the king would be awarded an honorary doctorate in social work for “his far-reaching vision and vital contribution in combating social ills among the youth and the society at large” through his Bayede Trust established in 2006.
The Save UniZulu Community, comprising senior academics among other interest groups, said something was suspicious and strange about the same university honouring the king twice.
Mdu Dlamini, the community’s liaison officer, said: “It looks like a high measure of corruption because we know what informs the conferring of a degree. We know that the university wants a title deed. You know a title deed is a major asset. Once it has it, the university can borrow huge monies. If it gets that title deed the community will never have a say.”
Gcina Nhleko, UniZulu spokesperson, said: “The university does not nominate people for honorary doctorates. Rather, it receives nominations from parties, in this instance the Bayede Foundation which is his majesty’s charitable wing. I suggest you liaise with it on its nomination.”
Nhleko did not respond to questions about the procedures to honour the king for a second time. She also did not respond to allegations the university was honouring the king because it sought to acquire a title deed and needed his approval for the land transfer.
Rhana Naicker, the Bayede Foundation chief executive director, confirmed that this week’s event would mark the second conferment of an honorary doctorate to the king but insisted that the honours were from two completely different faculties.
“The king’s foundation is instrumental in tackling all forms of social ills in rural KwaZulu-Natal among the most vulnerable populace. His majesty performs these functions in collaboration with various partners ... the conferment of the honorary doctorate was motivated as a result of the enormous contribution of his majesty’s impact on society and it would be sad to have his efforts now being questioned by disgruntled individuals.”
Naicker said she would refer questions on allegations that UniZulu wanted the king’s approval for land transfer to his adviser Dr Themba Fakazi.
Fakazi had not responded to questions at the time of going to print.
City Press understands that UniZulu vice-chancellor professor Xoliswa Mtose wrote a letter in September last year to Chief Mandla Mkhwanazi, who presides over Kwa-Dlangezwa, where the institution’s main campus is built, requesting support for the transfer of land ownership from the SA Development Trust to UniZulu.
An amount of R2.7 billion had been proposed for the 1 561 412 hectares on which the university is built, allegedly owned by the Ingonyama Trust.
In the letter, seen by City Press, Mtose requested Mkhwanazi to write “an endorsement letter in support of the transfer of land” to the university.
In addition, the department of higher education and training and the department of rural development and land reform want the land transfer matter resolved.
It was unclear whether Mkhwanazi responded to this letter. He did not reply to City Press’ calls and text messages.
But, in a letter dated December 11 last year, Gwebinkundla Qonde, director-general of the higher education and training department, wrote to Mtose confirming the department’s support for the land transfer.
In the letter, seen by City Press, Qonde said the land in question was 1 561 412ha.
“The department confirms its support of this land transfer for UniZulu without reservation and we appreciate the land affairs department’s willingness to conclude this land transfer at a proposed reasonable offer of R1 750 a hectare ... The university is part of a feasibility study on a student housing programme that is being conducted at five universities and at one technical and vocational education and training college and the issue of land ownership transfer is crucial for the proposed development of a student village on this campus.”
Lunga Ngqengelele, spokesperson for Higher Education and Training Minister Naledi Pandor, said it was discovered in late 2016 that the university did not own the land. The university was merely granted permission to occupy the land on November 7 1977.
In 1992, with the abolition of the SA Development Trust, the land was retained by the state, Ngqengelele said.
On July 1 1997 the then land affairs minister approved the sale of land to the university on condition that other parties also gave their permission.
City of uMhlathuze spokesperson Mdu Ncalane said the king’s foundation approached the city asking for contributions towards the celebrations. The council took a decision on March 28 to co-host the celebration for the conferment of the honorary doctorate to the king.
Ncalane said the foundation proposed that the city contribute at least R1 million, but the council approved a budget of R250 000 on grounds that the event would most likely attract national and international tourists and benefit local economic development in tourism as well as fund the marketing and branding of the city.
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