Unisa turns down Nzimande’s offer to settle cases out of court

The council of the University of South Africa (Unisa) has turned down Minister Blade Nzimande’s proposal of an out-of-court settlement on cases related to his decision to place the institution under administration.

This was revealed by Unisa’s head of legal services, professor Vuyo Peach.

Peach was speaking at Unisa on Wednesday during the university’s quarterly media engagement held at the main campus in Muckleneuk, Pretoria.

Peach said the university council declined the proposal because it felt it would be appropriate if an independent body such as the judiciary decides in this matter.

Nzimande’s proposal shot down

“Today [Wednesday], I wrote to the university’s legal representative informing them that the university [council] did not accept the minister’s proposal,” said Peach, adding that the university’s legal team would communicate the decision to the minister’s team.

“You cannot be a judge in your own case.

“The minister cannot come and say I’m proposing this … Only an independent body like the judiciary can adjudicate this in compliance with the rules of natural justice.”

Peach said the university council, which met on March 27, resolved to turn down the offer by Higher Education, Science, and Innovation Minister Nzimande, which, among other matters, includes not to dissolve the council; to keep the principal and vice-chancellor, professor Puleng LenkaBula and the management team in their positions; and to appoint an independent person to assume an oversight role on the affairs of Unisa.

According to the proposal contained in a letter dated March 11 and sent after a meeting between the legal representatives of the minister and Unisa on February 26, the university will be given 12 months from the date the proposal is accepted to implement remedial action under the supervision of the independent person appointed by the minister.

The letter reads in part: “During the aforesaid period, the minister will not appoint an administrator, and the council will not be dissolved.

“However, should the minister deem it necessary at the end of the 12-month period for a new council to be appointed, the minister will be at liberty to have a new council constituted for Unisa in compliance with relevant statutory provisions.”

March 15 deadline

The university was required to respond by March 15.

When asked why the university was responding more than a month after the deadline in the letter, Peach said the university requested an extension to allow for the council to sit and to have the resolution of the council.

Nzimande placed Unisa under administration on October 27 following the finding of reports by the ministerial task team and then independent assessor, which found chronic management failures and blamed the council as the root cause of the problems at Unisa.

He appointed former University of Johannesburg vice-chancellor Ihron Rensburg as the administrator.

However, Nzimande withdrew the notice to place the university under administration in November 2023 after the university was granted an interdict on October 6 by the Pretoria High Court, upholding an earlier interdict granted in August barring the minister from taking any action until the application by the university’s council and management to have the independent assessor’s report reviewed and set aside was finalised.

Students back the university

Speaking at the briefing of the vice-chancellor on institutional development, professor Solomon Magano said: “The university council decided that it is both in the university’s and the minister’s interest that the independent assessor’s report be adjudicated by the judiciary.”

The national secretary-general of the student representative council, Aphiwe Dlamini, who was present at the briefing, said the student body, which is also represented in council, is also in support of the university going to court instead of accepting the minister’s proposal.

“Let’s go to court. There’s nothing to hide. The institution is not hiding anything,” he said.

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