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Retraction of Unisa administrator appointment underway

Image: Axel Bührmann [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr


Action follows Pretoria judge ordering higher education minister to overturn the appointment last week

South Africa’s Department of Higher Education and Training has confirmed it is going through the process of retracting the appointment of an administrator of the University of South Africa in line with a court judgement last week.

In a 1 November ruling, judge André le Grange of the Pretoria High Court ordered higher education minister Blade Nzimande to rescind his gazetted directive dated 27 October to appoint former University of Johannesburg vice-chancellor Ihron Rensburg as Unisa’s administrator.

Le Grange said Nzimande’s appointment contravened a 24 August judgement ordering the minister to hold off on appointing an administrator for the university pending a legal review of an independent assessment of the institution from May that identified mismanagement, financial irregularities and academic malpractice at Unisa. That report recommended placing Unisa under administration. Unisa contested the report’s findings.

On 8 November, Nzimande’s spokesperson Ishmael Mnisi told Research Professional News: “The rescission or retraction of the government gazette goes through a vigorous process which the department is currently seized with. The rescission process will also be published,” he said in an email.

Unlawful appointment

Le Grange found that Rensburg’s appointment was “in direct conflict and breach” of the 24 August judgement and therefore “unlawful”. He added: “The proper functioning and authority of the courts would be considerably undermined if functionaries [the minister] are allowed to disregard direct orders.”

Last week, Nzimande published a statement saying he “notes” the 1 November order and that he “will study the ruling by the court and decide on the next legal route to take”.

Unisa welcomed the ruling in its favour, calling it “sound and correct”. Unisa went on to say the university was not fighting the minister “but merely exercising its responsibility towards the institution, its stakeholders and the public at large by preventing an unnecessary disruption of the execution of its missional mandate”.