Forensic reports and death threats spotlight chaos at VUT
Staff in senior management have locked horns with the VC, who may be implicated in irregular expenditure
Senior staff at Vaal University of Technology have called on higher education minister Naledi Pandor to intervene as allegations of fraud, death threats, corruption and nepotistic hiring practices mount amid multiple forensic investigations.
VUT, headquartered in Vanderbijlpark, is one of the largest technical universities in SA, with almost 20,000 students and four campuses.
Leaked council meeting minutes, forensic investigations and letters show registrar Dan Mokoena and director in the office of the vice-chancellor Mpho Diago are clashing with vice-chancellor Gordon Zide.
The documents show all three have complained in council meetings or letters about threats to their safety or anonymous threatening calls.
In November, Mokoena and Diago wrote to the university council saying they no longer trusted senior university management or the council.
They said they wanted Pandor involved and that she was legally authorised to intervene in VUT to set it on the “right course”.
“We hold a view that given the gravity of these issues and that individual staff members lives are at risk, it has now become a matter of public interest.”
The letter highlighted many issues, including the alleged failure of management to “implement forensic report [recommendations]”.
Times Select is aware of at least five forensic reports conducted since 2016 at VUT. These have examined questionable security company tenders, hiring irregularities and potential fraud by staff at the institution.
Insiders say a 2016 PwC report, titled Infrastructure and Maintenance Review, potentially implicates Zide, now head of the university, in two irregular purchases.
At the time of the PwC investigation, Zide was the deputy vice-chancellor of governance and operations.
PwC staff examined 384 maintenance and building purchases worth R40m and found 90 transactions contained anomalies. More than R5m in irregular spending was identified.
Problems highlighted included identical prices for carpets in different buildings of different sizes;
invoices paid out before orders were made; and
no proof that some of the work billed for was completed or even required. PwC concluded that “procurement processes were circumvented”. The person most implicated had left the university, spokesperson Mike Khuboni confirmed. The report, in Times Select’s possession, shows Zide was implicated in two irregular transactions called split tenders. This is when a single purchase is divided into two orders so they fall below the R100,000 limit that requires a tender committee to sign off.
Zide signed off a purchase order for doors and handles for residences from the same company, but it was split into two purchases.
PwC highlighted these purchases as anomalies and said they occurred either to subvert closer inspection or due to budget constraints.
But Zide, speaking through Khuboni, denied any wrongdoing, saying the report did not “categorically and clearly” state he was wrong.
Khuboni said: “Prof Zide is not involved with tenders as there is a tender committee, and he is not even a member of this said committee.”
Khuboni said informants were “hellbent” on damaging the VC’s reputation.
The most recent forensic report into the university, conducted by Sizwe Ntsaluba Gobodo, was handed to Pandor last month. Zide commissioned the report. He claims he has received death threats for commissioning the report.
Khuboni said Zide had reported those death threats to the police on several occasions, even as recently about two weeks ago because there was a black BMW tailing him after work.
Khuboni explained the death threats started in August 2017 when Zide asked for consent from the university’s council to investigate departments that had been identified as dysfunctional.
“These departments included human resources, student support services, finance, operations and logistics, the executive management committee and the VC’s office.”
A letter in Times Select’s possession shows Pandor has asked the council, as the ultimate authority, to investigate multiple VUT-related complaints to it, including those about Zide.
Khuboni said: “I am quite aware that multiple parties have written to council, and evidently the council is aware of all these allegations against Prof Zide.”
University council chairperson Tebogo Taunyane Hlapalosa said in reply to questions: “We are aware of the issues and they are being attended to. Council reports to the relevant authorities and, as per protocol, a report will be submitted when all investigations and findings are complete.” Pandor’s spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele said she had received the latest forensic report. He did not respond to detailed questions. Violent protests have taken place at VUT this week by students asking for food allowances from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.