23 January 2013

South Africa: Minister Nzimande Must Explain Composition of University Oversight Committee

press release

Higher Education and Training Minister, Blade Nzimande, must answer questions on the vetting and composition of the Oversight Committee of the Transformation of South African Universities.

Minister Nzimande today announced the composition of the committee, which will be mandated to monitor progress on transformation in public universities and to advise the Minister on policy to combat discrimination and promote social cohesion.

The Minister selected seven members to serve on the committee. The DA has serious reservations about three of these members, whose qualifications and suitability to engage in work of such a sensitive and complex nature must be questioned.

The committee is to be led by Prof. Malegapuru Makgoba, vice-chancellor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), who has been embroiled in a number of controversies over the years:

Accusations of stifling academic freedom and freedom of speech have been levelled against him and against the UKZN under his tenure.

In 1995, as deputy vice chancellor of Wits University, he called the Wits University leadership a "small inbred elite".

He was temporarily suspended by the University for abusing his position to access 13 academics' personal files to make accusations that were subsequently found to be baseless.

In 2005, in a Mail & Guardian opinion piece, he compared the behaviour of white 'dethroned' South African males in post-Apartheid South Africa to baboons.

It is puzzling why Minister Nzimande believes that someone with this track record is a fit and proper person to lead a committee whose work must focus on transformation, the combating of discrimination, and the promotion of social cohesion.

The committee also comprises two union members, Zingiswa Losi (second deputy president of COSATU) and Joe Mpisi (first deputy president of Nehawu).

Given the complex and sensitive nature of the ongoing transformation of the higher education sector, it is important that members of the committee have the appropriate skills set and knowledge of the sector. There can be no place for politically motivated appointments that may have occurred at the expense of other more suitably qualified candidates.

I will therefore be submitting questions to Minister Nzimande to determine:

  • Which criteria were employed in considering who to appoint to the committee;
  • How many candidates were shortlisted; and
  • The qualifications and experience of shortlisted candidates.

It is essential that the transformation process at universities be completed successfully to ensure that all South African students have access to a world-class education. The committee tasked with oversight of this process therefore must be comprised of the people best qualified to make this happen.

Annelie Lotriet, Shadow Minister of Higher Education and Training

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