Taxpayers fork out millions as university’s ‘unwanted executives’ stay at home

2019-10-30 00:02

Taxpayers have paid millions of rands for two “unwanted” executives at the Vaal University of Technology (VUT) who were allegedly forced by the university to stay at home.

One executive, whose name is known to City Press, has earned almost R3.3 million while at home over the past 25 months, after the VUT allegedly refused to take him back.

This, despite the fact that the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration had ruled in his favour regarding the renewal of his contract, according to his submission to Professor Barney Pityana, who was appointed an independent assessor in May.

“The situation has been like this from October 5 2017 to date, at the taxpayers’ expense,” the executive told Pityana.

The executive declined to comment, saying he had pending litigation against the institution.

Pityana was appointed by former higher education minister Naledi Pandor to investigate allegations and counter-allegations relating to the VUT’s former principal and vice-chancellor, Professor Gordon Zide, his administration and the then council chairperson, Tebogo Hlapolose.

Pandor’s successor, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, then appointed former University of Johannesburg principal and vice-chancellor Professor Ihron Rensburg to be the administrator of the VUT in August this year.

Zide and the council had to step aside during the investigation.

This week Mike Khuboni, spokesperson for the VUT, told City Press that Zide had taken sabbatical leave until December, when his resignation kicks in.

The millions paid to these executives could have contributed to what Rensburg described to VUT stakeholders on Monday as a “university requiring an emergency response”.

Rensburg told the stakeholders that the VUT resembled a ship that was on the verge of crashing out of the higher education system.

It had been placed under administration for the third time in two decades, a situation which Rensburg described as “unacceptable, pointing to deep-seated, multiple and unresolved troubles”.

The current leadership, he said, was now faced with the enormous task of urgently turning around the dire situation.

“If the institution crashes, financially and academically, what happens to our students and to our economy? And what will happen to our staff? We must now come to our senses and wake from this two decades-long bad dream,” Rensburg said.

City Press has also seen a submission from the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) to Pityana.

Zide and Hlapolose were sent emails requesting their submissions, but they had not responded at the time of writing.

In his submission to Pityana, which City Press has seen, the unwanted executive alleged he was acquitted.

“My disciplinary hearing took place in July 2017, after Professor Zide had assumed duties as vice-chancellor,” he wrote.

After being acquitted, he alleged that the VUT wrote to his attorney, saying it would communicate further about his return to work.

“I was never called back to resume work until my contract expired on August 31 2017. It became clear to me that this was a ploy by Professor Zide that I should be kept off campus so that by the time my contract expired, I should still be off campus – as if my constitutional rights to fair labour practice would cease if I were to be kept off campus,” said the executive.

But in his submission, he alleged that he had been on a month-to-month contract since them.

The other executive, also known to City Press, had been suspended for 18 months on full pay.

“I have noticed that the vice-chancellor and his group do not want me at the university since my disciplinary hearing is always postponed till to date [sic] (I can provide a video and emails to prove that they go around speaking that they don’t want me to work at VUT),” he wrote in his submission.

“My intention is to resign from this university because I received an email from the chairperson of the union, threatening my life. To my surprise, he copied both the vice-chancellor and the chairperson of council, and nothing has been done to him. (I have the email.)”

The executive added that he had evidence to back up his claims.

“My intention is to give this process a chance to reveal nothing but the truth to the VUT community. But should the process fail us, I will be left with no choice but to contact the Hawks and expose everything in my possession.”

Nehawu said in its submission that the then council was “nonfunctional, factional and not progressive in addressing the academic agenda of the institution”.

In his assessment briefing to the VUT community, Rensburg said the institution lacked a coherent strategic direction: “It is deeply faction-ridden, and this has enabled rogues to capture and to paralyse procurement, infrastructure projects and staff appointments. In many instances, recruitment policies had not been followed, resulting in people being appointed informally. Moreover, there are reported instances of people being hired in exchange for sexual favours.”

In addition, Rensburg said, the VUT had become a last resort for prospective students, and success rates were in decline.

Since his appointment, he said, he had approved the VUT’s strategic plan, which in part identified actions to be implemented urgently, including:

VUT’s strategic plan, which in part identified actions to be implemented urgently
  • Improving student success by implementing early warning and tracking systems;
  • Rehabilitating student residences;
  • Reviewing and phasing out unfeasible academic programmes;
  • Reviewing the viability of satellite campuses and responsible closure;
  • Filling critical vacant posts; and
  • Instituting disciplinary action against staff implicated in corruption and fraud in procurement and human resources.

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January 19 2020