12 March 2020
The University of Zululand Council met with University Management on the 9th March 2020 to reflect on the unfolding developments at the University. These developments include amongst others submissions that were made to the Department of Higher Education and Training and various media publications and statements issued by identifiable as well as anonymous sources. The meeting followed closely on the meetings with the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Dr Nzimande, held on the same day with University Management and student political organisations.
The University Council is entrusted with the responsibility of governance and the smooth running of the University’s academic programme. For this reason, Council is expected to rise and show interest whenever there is a threat to stability and order at the University. Before getting to issues on the table, it is important that I first state that the University of Zululand’s Council is a legal governance structure and complies with the relevant statutes as well as being accommodative of all organisations and stakeholders that are supposed to be part of Council. The claim that the University deliberately excluded Umhlathuze Municipality from being part of Council is not true. In fact, the Municipality had been participating as a role-player in Council until its representative registered as a student and had to vacate the position. Several times, the University has written to the Municipality reminding it about the need to appoint a new representative and there has always been a promise to attend to the matter which has never been fulfilled.
The Council notes various allegations levelled against the Vice Chancellor that have been bandied around and reminds the public and the University Community that these are not new. All the allegations have been investigated by different investigative bodies and they were found to be baseless. What is amiss is that the people that have defrauded the University and have been disciplined accordingly have gone on to point figures at the VC and portray her as being corrupt, thus forming solidarity with each other to wage a fight back through the so called Save Unizulu campaign.
Council therefore takes a position that it would be a fruitless exercise for Council to engage further on this matter.
Investigations that have been pursued to root out corruption at the University have been at the insistence of Council. Where findings suggested disciplinary action, all due processes were followed. This was done based on the understanding that there must be consequences for any wrong doing. In undertaking such investigations, and further pursuing any course of action arising out of such investigations, the University is guided by the rule of law, the University statute and relevant legislation including the Labour Relations Act. As such, all staff members of Unizulu are assured that their rights are protected and, in any event, they have recourse to the courts in cases where they feel unfairly treated by the University. It is strange though that students’ demands seem to be inclusive of employer/employee issues.
Council has got confirmation that indeed there is no workers’ union that is legally recognised in the University. Council reminded itself and wants to share with the public that the recognition of workers’ unions in any place of work, is governed by the Labour Relations Act. The Vice-Chancellor, University Management, and Workers’ Unions are all not above the law and rules governing workers’ representation. Workers’ Unions qualify for recognition at any institution once they have met certain requirements as prescribed by the Act. It is therefore completely incorrect to suggest that University Management should in some way be held responsible for ensuring that workers are organised to meet these legal requirements and hence establish themselves as a Union. In a nutshell Workers’ Unions must work on convincing workers to join and re-join their Unions so that they meet the required threshold for them to be recognised. Despite all of this, Council approved the establishment of a forum, a platform in which workers are engaged and consulted on a number of issues affecting them.
In the submissions by students, there are issues that allegedly affect them, which Council has asked University Management to report on. These include challenges they have with accommodation, safety of off campus students, financial and academic exclusions amongst other issues.
People will appreciate the fact that some issues are operational but Council after being appraised with reports, felt the need to investigate what really transpired or had led to a stage where students decided to strike.
The University of Zululand does not have enough residence that can accommodate all registered the students. This is a historic reality and all historically disadvantaged institutions are faced with a backlog in infrastructure and many other things. Regardless of these challenges, the university has continued to strive to improve the lives of the students of UNIZULU, through both quality teaching and research. In terms of accommodation the university has done the following under the leadership of the VC:
- In 2017 a new residence was built with 288 bed spaces;
- A new building was bought in Richards Bay with 195 bed spaces in 2019;
- For off campus bed spaces before 2016 the total spaces were 1075. Between 2017 and 2019 a total of 207 was acquired and 439 added in 2020 giving the university a total of 1721 bed spaces;
- The University working with Kwadlangezwa Community members who are accommodating our students on rental agreements agreed on the terms and conditions, clearly stipulating the requirements to be an accredited provider for our students. Meetings were held with them, facilitated by Inkosi Mkhwanazi and his traditional Council. At the top of the criteria is the safety of the residence. We appreciate the role played those community members led by Inkosi.
Council understands that the permanent solution of the accommodation challenge would be met when the University build its own residence for its students. There is money to build about 3800 bed spaces. The challenge the Council is faced with, is that the University does not have land to build on. Engagements with local Inkosi are moving in a snail’s pace thus delaying the whole project. It is the plea of the University Council that Inkosi prioritises this matter because engagements were at an advanced stage for the University to get the title deed. It is therefore this engagement with the Inkosi Mkhwanazi that is delaying the process of building student residence. For now, Council will use all available avenues to realise this great vision and project. The Chairperson of Council will soon be visiting the University residence to check the condition of the existing accommodation as there are indications as claimed by students that they are not in good order and no maintainance has been done. Safety of students is paramount and they do deserve accommodation that uplifts their human dignity.
- FINANCIAL EXCLUSIONS – NSFAS PROCESSES
The management confirmed that more than 500 students were told that they are no longer beneficiaries of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) even though they were in the previous year. It must be noted that NSFAS manages its affairs independently. This includes its funding provisions and requirements, and how and when it may decide to change any of these. Through the engagement with the Minister and NSFAS, NSFAS is now attending to each case so that it can be establish reasons why each student is excluded. Council noted and applauded the University Management for the manner in which they handled registration in the beginning of the year. Challenges regarding registrations resulted in student protests in other institutions but there was no protest in Unizulu as systems and clear plans were in place. Even students who were still appealing their status with NSFAS were provisionally registered and given allowances. This gives a picture of a management that cares. Whilst the University lacks jurisdiction on matters of NSFAS, Council calls on management to be in constant engagement with NSFAS to deal with emerging challenges.
- On the demand to register one student who could not register
Any student that feels excluded in pursuing their own studies must approach the Management of the institution. Engaging with the matter through social network and media will not assist, hence the importance of platforms of engagements. The Management and Vice Chancellor in particular were not approached by any student that felt unfairly excluded. It is based on this fact that the affected student is advised to use all available avenues including appeals, to the Management so as to find amicable solutions to the matter.
- On another point, where it is suggested that academic pre-requisites should be abolished, Council is of the view that such a demand cannot be entertained. In fact, Council finds the very suggestion highly regrettable, as it has the potential to undermine the integrity of the university’s academic qualifications. Council does not believe this suggestion serves the interests of our students, our alumni nor those of the institution and its stakeholders in general.
- On the SRC AND SRC ADMINISTRATOR
To put things into perspective it is false that University of Zululand has not been having an elected Student Representative Council since the current VC took office. For example in 2017 and 2018 the University had successful SRC elections that produced leadership. The SRC of 2018 had to be dissolved following an unfortunate incident that involved members of the SRC. The SRC Constitution provides for dissolution if the SRC is found to have acted in conflict with provisions of the Constitution and the Code of Conduct of the University. It is the SRC Constitution that again provides for the appointment of the Administrator ,which Council complied with.
After being personally attacked during the strike, the SRC Administrator wrote a letter of resignation on the 3rd of March 2020. This letter was written to the Council Chair and was presented at the special Council meeting held on Monday. Council deliberated on reasons behind the resignation and condemns any form of violence at the University. The barbaric situation that the Administrator was subjected to, was not called for because he had not appointed himself. Council apologises to Mr Makhoba for all the pain he endured while executing the task he was appointed for. Council thanks him for all the contributions he has made as an SRC Administrator.
Council is of the view that such a vacuum cannot be allowed. In this regard the issue of the SRC needs to be prioritised. This will require revisiting the SRC Constitution and establishing whether Council appoints an Administrator or it appoints an Interim Committee which is representative of all student organisations in the University. This can only be done in consultation with students.
- On the demand for VC to resign
One recent demand by students is that the Vice Chancellor must resign or must go. As a matter of fact the appointment of a Vice Chancellor is the prerogative of Council. It is a responsibility that Council takes very seriously. The appointment of Professor Xoliswa Mtose was not taken lightly.
Professor Mtose’s leadership has taken the University on a positive trajectory. She has managed to turn the institution from the state of flux, limping from one administrator to the next, into a stable institution. It was under her leadership that various activities were consolidated, streamlined and restructured for relevance in line with the University’s strategic vision. As a result, the University has been able to focus on the pursuit for academic excellence.
It is under Professor Mtose that the University continues to register significant increases in research output. Her focus on academic excellence has led to an increase in staff with PhDs from 30% in 2015 to 50% in 2020. Academic staff with lower qualifications are being supported to improve their qualifications.
Professor Mtose continues to steer the University in the direction of a credible academic plan. In this regard, the University’s academic programmes have been accredited and reaccredited. This includes many programmes that had lost their accreditation. And new programmes have also been accredited.
Under Professor Mtose’s leadership a sound policy regime has been developed. A proper governance structure is now in place. This include promulgation of the new University statute. The University’s financial health has been restored. It is under her leadership that there is a strong sense of accountability. Key documents are submitted on time to regulatory bodies.
Professor Mtose introduced a robust Supply Chain Management regime and an Institutional Risk Register that guides the institution to manage risk.
She has managed to consolidate the senior executive team. She succeeded in turning around what had become difficult relations that existed between the University and the Department of Higher Education. It is precisely because of her demonstrable commitment to academic leadership and intellectual excellence that she is often called to engage in critical academic debates at a sectoral level.
The above efforts have contributed positively to the University’s throughput rates. The University was listed as one of the best managed institutions in this regard.
Through her steady hand, the University is about to become the first Historically Disadvantaged Institution to establish Engineering qualifications. This will be a game changer.
The University Council has no doubt that under Professor Mtose, the University is poised for a greater and brighter future. Simply put the University of Zululand still has faith and trust in Professor Mtose to steer this ship to higher levels.
Lastly, Council has noted various acts of lawlessness and criminality that has taken place at the University during this period, including amongst others threats to the personal safety of staff and students, the unlawful carrying of dangerous weapons, destruction and burning of university property and other public assets, etc. Council unequivocally condemns all the acts of criminality and calls upon the perpetrators to desist from further endangering the safety of our students and staff, and also to desist from destroying the very university facilities and premises that serve the educational needs of our students.
Council has the confidence that the University Management has the requisite determination, skills and vision to attend to legitimate student grievances and issues. We thus call upon our students to present any issues that they may have to Management through the established channels.
Finally, Council calls on all University stakeholders to work towards a speedy resumption of academic activity on campus.