Vice-chancellor challenges ‘unfounded’ claims

The embattled vice-chancellor of the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University (SMU), Peter Mbati, looks set to challenge the fairness of the processes followed by the portfolio committee in probing whether his appointment was procedural, among others.

Mbati was appointed as vice-chancellor of SMU in June 2020, after a short stint at Botho University in Botswana.

Parliament’s legal advisers on Friday told the legislators that Mbati had raised several concerns after he was furnished with the preliminary inquiry report into his appointment.

The legal advisers said Mbati had replied to the draft report, and stated his displeasure at the “soft approach to all the witnesses who made unsubstantiated allegations” against him, by the committee.

“He [Mbati] urges the committee to correct the wrong conclusions it had arrived at, or otherwise he [will] pursue them at an appropriate forum… [He] notes that the committee has ignored the submissions he has made so as to engender its biased submission. He will subject the report to a review if the committee doesn’t reconsider,” said Mamphago Modiba, content adviser in parliament.

The legislators are probing allegations of wasteful expenditure when Mbati was the head honcho at the University of Venda (Univen). At the heart of the probe are claims of maladministration relating to the procurement process for infrastructure projects at the university.

One of the allegations also levelled against Mbati is that of sexual harassment when he was the vice-chancellor of Univen, where he served two terms from 2008 to 2018.

The sexual harassment case was also reported to the police. However, the National Prosecuting Authority did not see reasonable prospects for a successful prosecution.

The committee researcher in December briefed the committee on its observations and findings, which include the following:

  • Univen strayed from its policies, especially the sexual harassment policy;
  • Challenges in the sexual harassment case were created due to gaps in the policy on how to handle cases at the level of vice-chancellor;
  • Prof Mbati was allowed to take the Commission on Gender Equality report on review without a council meeting and approval;
  • The irregular appointment of Noluthando Pendu, who is a former higher education management information system officer at Univen was engineered by Prof Mbati. Pendu did not have the requisite qualification and was not honest about this.
  • Mbati was not a director at Black Capital as alleged by the Department of Higher Education and Training; and
  • There was no evidence that the SMU process of recruiting Mbati as vice-chancellor was flawed or done hastily.

The committee in February approved the preliminary oversight enquiry report. It was then agreed that it would be circulated to affected parties and three weeks would be given for comments and disputes.

Attempts to contact Mbati were unsuccessful.

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