Nzimande calls out court’s ‘inconsistencies’ in handling Unisa case

Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Dr Blade Nzimande has expressed concern over the Pretoria High Court’s handling of cases brought by the council and executive management of the University of South Africa (Unisa).

Nzimande, who on Friday was interdicted from placing Unisa under administration, said he noted the ruling and will abide by it. However, he expressed concern at how the court was dealing with the matter.

On Friday, the council of Africa’s largest university, obtained an urgent order barring Nzimande from acting on his notice to place the university under administration.

In a statement issued by his spokesperson Ishmael Mnisi, Nzimande said: “I remain concerned that although the order granted by Justice (Leicester) Adams, on August 24 2023 has noted the urgency of this matter, the court has not demonstrated any sense of urgency in finalising this matter.

“It is now more than a month that transpired and the matter has not yet been heard by the court, however, the court is able to hear an urgent application by UNISA. To me, this resembles an inconsistency in the application of the principle of ‘urgency’ or prioritisation of issues by the court,” Nzimande said in a statement on Friday evening.

Nzimande also expressed concerns about “how the South Africa court system is been used to curtail his executive authority as provided by the Higher Education Act”.

“The minister believes in the supremacy of the Constitution, the law and the doctrine of the separation of powers between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. He hopes that this should not be one of those instances in which this important Constitutional principle is violated,” Mnisi said in the statement.

The university’s council sought the court’s intervention on Thursday after Nzimande said he would make public his decision to place Unisa under administration on Friday.

He said his decision was informed by the report of an independent assessor,  Professor Themba Mosia released in March 2023 and the 2021 report by the ministerial task team chaired by Dr Vincent Maphai which have found corruption and maladministration at the institution.

There are currently two court application before the court regarding the report submitted by Mosia. One application is by the chair of the council, Mashukudu Maboa and seeks to interdict Nzimande from placing the institution under administration. The other is by the university’s principal and vice-chancellor Prof Puleng LenkaBula requesting a review of Mosia’s report and for it to be set aside. 

The order, issued by judge Harshila Kooverjie on Friday,  declared Nzimande’s intention to act on the notice to place Unisa under administration to be in breach of the order by Adams.

“The minister is ordered to withdraw the notice … to immediately cease and desist from taking any steps to publish and implement the notice or take any steps of whatever nature to implement the notice,” reads the order by Kooverjie.

Mnisi said Nzimande will await the court date for the hearing of an urgent interim interdict application.

“The minister’s legal team has again reminded (Gauteng) deputy judge president (Aubrey) Judge Ledwaba, for an expedited special allocation of the aforesaid hearing,” he said.

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