University of KwaZulu-Natal's vice-chancellor Professor Albert van Jaarsveld
University of KwaZulu-Natal’s vice-chancellor Professor Albert van Jaarsveld

Durban – Five University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) executives who accused vice-chancellor Professor Albert van Jaarsveld of incompetency and racism in 2015 could be suspended and disciplinary action taken against them.

One executive, who did not want to be named, said there was an investigation into their accusations against Van Jaarsveld, headed by advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza who was appointed in December 2015.

He said the report was sent to the university’s council and one of the recommendations was to suspend five executives.

“When the complaints were laid against the vice-chancellor, the grievance procedure was followed.”

“We now hear that the report says we should be suspended for raising issues affecting the institution. Does it make sense to suspend someone for raising concerns against their leader?

“I don’t think there is a provision, in labour law, for the suspension or frustration of complainants in the workplace,” the executive said.

The Higher Education Transformation Network (HETN) threw its weight behind the executives, calling for the university council to relook at Ntsebeza’s report. Lucky Thekisho, HETN chairperson, called the report “suspicious”.

“We still maintain that the findings should be relooked at and in doing so, views of all the stakeholders should be taken into consideration. It’s strange that black leadership victimise black colleagues. We will do whatever it takes to protect our members,” Thekisho said.

He criticised Van Jaarsveld for “failing to contain” the situation.

“We said before that this man (Van Jaarsveld) will not drive transformation at UKZN and with all that has been happening there, we have been proven right. As a leader, he should have sat his team down and worked on finding an amicable solution to the problems at the institution, but that’s not what has been happening there,” he said.

“There appears to be serious questions about the apparent report produced by senior counsel, which it has been alleged, is deeply flawed and one-sided; and could potentially damage the standing and reputation of the university.”

Thekisho appealed to the university leadership to act fairly, impartially and “in a manner befitting what is widely regarded as the country’s most transformed university”.

“It will be shameful if a predominantly black council is found to be biased against black staff members,” he said.

Thekisho said there were deepening divisions on this matter as expressed by the unions, student representatives and the leadership.

National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) also threw its weight behind the executives.

Phakama Ndunakazi, provincial spokesperson, said they would not take a stance until all the stakeholders had met.

“These managers are targeted because they challenged Van Jaarsveld’s leadership style.

“Standing against his (Van Jaarsveld) idea of relocating the university’s business school to uMhlanga is another reason they are targeted. For now there is nothing we can do but a meeting with all the stakeholders is on the cards,” Ndunakazi said.

He felt “this victimisation” was centred on transformation at the institution and alleged that a meeting with investors, no black university officials were allowed.

Van Jaarsveld has been at loggerheads with his staff members for his leadership style.

The City Press reported on Sunday that he had excluded Professor John Mubangizi, head of the university’s business school, from a white-only steering committee which was established to look into the relocation of UKZN’s business school to uMmhlanga. The executives were said to be against the relocation. Van Jaarsveld declined to comment on Sunday.

Advocate Ntsebeza did not want to comment on the issue as the report was submitted to the Council in October. “I understand that some people will be pleased and some will not be pleased.”

Dr Ayanda Ntsaluba, university chancellor and Council chairperson, said he would not comment on issues which were still before the council.

“I’ve been hearing about this suspension and people have been talking about it. Stakeholders have different views on the matter and people are just pre-empting council’s final decision.

I will not be commenting as no decision has been taken. Some people deliberately leak information to the media in an attempt to force council’s hand to make the matter public. An announcement will be made once a decision is taken,” said Ntsaluba.

Written by Chris Ndaliso IOL