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SIU called in to probe VUT vice-chancellor and deputies over widespread graft

2020-02-14 12:38

The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) could be roped in to investigate Vaal University of Technology (VUT) vice-chancellor and principal Professor Ndodomzi Zide.

Zide and his deputy vice-chancellors face a possible investigation after Professor Barney Pityana, in a report published in the government gazette by Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister Blade Nzimande today, recommended the ailing university be put under administration.

It’s unclear what is to happen to former University of Johannesburg principal and vice-chancellor Professor Ihron Rensburg, who was appointed as the administrator of VUT by Nzimande following resignation of the university’s council in August last year.

In a scathing report that independent assessors Pityana and Professor Rocky Ralebipi-Simela sent to Nzimande, they “strongly” recommended that the administrator should approach the SIU to investigate activities of Zide, his colleagues, several officials and former students.

The report said the probe should focus on their involvement in supply chain management, infrastructure and logistics, students services, security and campus protection.

Other key recommendations were that:
  • Nzimande should reassess the future of Zide’s employment as his contract runs until 2022;
  • The VUT senior leadership - Zide, his deputies and registrar – be retired or redeployed and new critical leadership be found to guide the university; and
  • The VUT’s executive directors and executive deans must be subjected to an annual lifestyle audit and declaration of interest while new council members need to be vetted to weed out opportunistic elements.

Pityana and Ralebipi-Simela were appointed by Nzimande’s predecessor Dr Naledi Pandor in May last year to investigate the source and nature of problems facing the institution, including those related to governance, management, financial management and procurement practices, human resource and administration matters.

This followed a series of stories that were published by City Press on allegations of mismanagement at the VUT.

Read: Pandor appoints Barney Pityana to investigate problems at VUT

In their report, the pair painted a picture of a university that has totally collapsed.

During their investigation, they had consultations with Zide, the university council, students, alumni and other stakeholders.

“In the course of this work, we came to an appreciation of the value of this institution, and of the love that many of the people, within and outside, have towards the university. We were also saddened that over time the university seems to have lost its way and largely lacks the essence of the idea of a university: nurturing minds, expanding scholarship, knowledge development and community engagement.

“Instead, rather, a utilitarian blanket has enveloped the university for many years now. It has been a blanket of shame that the university does not deserve.”

However, they said there was still hope that the university could be turned around. “Having undertaken this task, we are assured that the university has a future. It was with a positive frame of mind that we went about our duty.

“We wanted to assure the best future for the VUT.

We came to know that in order to do so, some drastic steps needed to be taken. As independent assessors, we realised that we were well placed to make far-reaching proposals in order to assist in the rehabilitation of the university.”

Pityana said their report raised an important matter – that of “a large-scale collapse” that has occurred, which needs “urgent and deep interventions”.

He said challenges at the VUT have been going on over a long time and past interventions were either “superficial or that the scale of the problem has been far too stubborn for the measures previously undertaken”.

“We hope that this report will go a long way towards remedying such failures. This has happened as a result of collusion and indifference by many who profess to be concerned about the future and about the health of the university, including students and staff, parents and the community, donors and suppliers.

“In this case, the university has been left to become prey to the wolves. Far too many people who could have stopped the problems have either remained quiet, looked the other way, were indifferent or afraid.

“We recommend that the SIU be invited to investigate thoroughly the incidents of malfeasance at the university, and ensure that the criminal elements if found to be guilty of wrongdoing, are charged and go to jail.”


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March 29 2020