Suspended University of SA (Unisa) executive director for legal services Advocate Modidima Mannya has asked Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande to dissolve the university’s council.
In a scathing letter to Nzimande, Mannya alleged that the council failed to exercise its fiduciary duties, which included investigating the appointment of Unisa principal and vice-chancellor Professor Puleng LenkaBula.
Mannya said he had reported allegations relating to irregularities surrounding LenkaBula’s appointment, and others, but he received no feedback from the council.
‘Rope in police’
Mannya’s letter to Nzimande, which City Press has seen and is dated August 21, urged the minister to consider dissolving the council and take appropriate measures to ensure full compliance by Unisa with the law; initiate a forensic investigation into the affairs of the university, including into the appointment of LenkaBula; and consider a police investigation into aspects constituting criminal conduct.
He said Nzimande should exercise his powers in terms of the Higher Education Act by “taking corrective action against the council and addressing the unlawful and fraudulent appointment” of LenkaBula.
Mannya said that Nzimande’s decision to appoint a ministerial task team for Unisa had not had any effect on the conduct at the university.
“This is indicative that the situation has become irredeemable,” he said.
The task team was appointed in 2020 to conduct an independent review of Unisa because, Nzimande said at the time, it was experiencing “mission drift” by becoming more “full time”, yet there has never been a plan supported by the national government in favour of such a move.
Nzimande said the mission drift had massive implications for the financial sustainability and future of Unisa, subsidy and student financial support, and infrastructure and teaching staff, among other things.
Instability in the senior management, Nzimande said, was also a matter of great concern.
Mannya has alleged that over a period of time, the council had been involved in material irregularities and unlawful conduct.
He said material governance lapses were “deliberate and a consequence of a deliberate advancement of self-interest”.
‘Hard evidence submitted to council to probe’
In September, Mannya said he had reported allegations of gross misconduct by the former Unisa council chairperson Sakhi Simelane, which involved corruption in the process of the procurement of a building in Mbombela, Simelane’s abuse of power in appointing someone who was not properly qualified and abuse of power in relation to the case of Professor Muxe Nkondo.
He said he provided the chairperson of the council, Mashukudu Maboa, with the hard evidence to support the report.
Save to receive an acknowledgement and a confirmation from the deputy chairperson of the council, Mr B [Busani] Ngcaweni that the matter is serious, no investigation has, to my knowledge, been conducted. Simelane, despite the admitted seriousness of the issues, was allowed to continue to preside over [the] council until his term ended in December 2020.
“The failure to follow the process prescribed by the code of conduct was deliberate to allow Simelane to complete his term of office and preside over further unlawful conduct, as the evidence shows,” Mannya’s letter reads.
He said Unisa appointed LenkaBula in November “after what was clearly a manipulated process”.
He alleged it was this “very flawed process” that, according to Nkondo and all the objective facts, led to Nkondo’s alleged victimisation and removal from Unisa’s executive committee.
Mannya said there was an attempt to have Nkondo unlawfully suspended, but this failed as a result of Mannya’s alleged refusal to carry out unlawful instructions.
The advertisement for LenkaBula’s post, Mannya said, included the key requirement of 10 years of executive management experience.
“King IV read with the university’s Institutional Statute is clear about what constitutes executive management and there cannot be any doubt about what that means. It is significant that none of the shortlisted and interviewed candidates met this key requirement. On the contrary, the person appointed hardly has two years of executive management experience stated in the advertisement,” his letter reads.
He said it was also significant that Unisa’s senate and the institutional forum approved LenkaBula’s appointment despite the alleged glaring irregularities.
Unisa incurred R100 million in irregular expenditure
Unisa’s audit report, Mannya said, confirmed the reality of the state of governance at the university:
Although based on a sample, it confirms what those who care, know. An irregular expenditure of over R100 million based on a sample of less than 10% is recorded. The report is specific on lack of compliance with laws and regulations. Not surprising at all, having regard to the nature and extent of the manipulation of processes at the university.
“The failure of members of council to ensure that the report is processed and the serious matters I raised constitutes a dereliction of duty, which is deliberate and intended to abet possible corruption. The failure of council to act on the report is inconsistent with the speed and venom with which they dealt with other members on less serious matters. The failure to attend to this matter was drawn to the attention of the current chairperson who has, like his deputy, simply ignored the matter. These will give a clear sense of how the processes are manipulated,” Mannya’s letter reads.
He said these, especially the LenkaBula matter, were reportable matters in terms of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act, and ought to have been reported to law enforcement agencies.
“The failure of council to report these matters constitutes a contravention of the act,” the letter reads.
Nzimande’s spokesperson Ishmael Mnisi had not responded to questions by the time of publishing.
Mashukudu Maboa, the chairperson of the council, said the issues raised were sub judice and were part of ongoing litigation between Unisa and Mannya.
“Furthermore, some of the issues raised are part of our own ongoing internal investigations and process. We therefore cannot comment on these issues at this stage,” Maboa said.
Mannya said that he had not received a response from Nzimande.