VUT jou goed en trek: varsity director gets R4m payout after work clashes
'Peace pipe' was out of the question as row with vice-chancellor over fraud and mismanagement allegations broke down irreparably
The breakdown in relations between the vice-chancellor of the Vaal University of Technology and a senior director has led to the latter walking away with a R4m settlement.
Mpho Diago left with a settlement, seen by Times Select, worth two years of his salary and his ongoing studies being paid for. He and the vice-chancellor, Professor Gordon Zide, have been clashing since 2017 when Zide was appointed as head of VUT.
The settlement states that their working relationship had broken down and both agreed to “terminate the employment contract and resolve [their] dispute”.
Diago was paid out last week and left the university, and has withdrawn a case of victimisation before the CCMA, he told Times Select.
University spokesperson Mike Khuboni said senior human resources staff and management had tried to resolve issues between the vice-chancellor and his staff member but Diago would not “smoke a peace pipe”.
The first settlement drafted by the human resources department says: “This state of affairs does more harm than good to the normal operations of the university.”
In November, Diago complained in a letter to the council, the institution’s highest authority, about the running of the university and asked minister of higher education Naledi Pandor to get involved.
He alleged fraud, mismanagement and breach of human resource policies. He has now lodged a complaint at the public protector and is waiting for the council to investigate the issues he raised, as ordered by Pandor.
He has handed over his alleged evidence to union Nehawu, which said publicly last week it would send it to the minister of higher education, the ANC and the police. The initial settlement, which Diago rejected, subjected him to a confidentiality agreement for 20 years. It proposed that the vice-chancellor and Diago “cease any direct or indirect investigations” into each other.
It also suggested that “any future submissions by one party about another to the council, or the department of higher education and training or government agencies should cease with immediate effect”.
The final settlement had no confidentiality clauses.
University spokesperson Mike Khuboni says this shows how the university worked with Diago to negotiate a mutually beneficial agreement.
He also said the first settlement asking for confidentiality came from the human resources department. “Remember, this was a negotiated process between the employee and the human resources department. It does not involve the vice-chancellor at all,” said Khuboni.
“Diago has not been asked to withdraw his complaint either with the minister or the council or the police. He objected to the first settlement, which demonstrates that this was a negotiated process, as he may have informed you so.”
Diago said the university was struggling financially and should not have paid him so much to leave. Yet, he conceded he took the settlement. In fact, e-mails show he was asked to propose the terms of it and suggested two years of pay.
He said that “given safety issues and all I have done to report these issues [of alleged corruption], the safe and logical thing for me was to accept the settlement and leave”.
He asked Nehawu to help him open a case regarding threats to his safety, and provided it with a detailed affidavit about the threats, which Times Select has seen.
Asked why VUT paid him so much to leave, Khuboni said:
“This is a normal labour relations exercise, where parties agree to part ways if they no longer see eye to eye. “There were attempts by some colleagues, including the director of human resources, to mediate, but Diago was just not prepared to smoke a peace pipe.
“At a meeting convened by the registrar, the vice-chancellor extended an olive branch to Diago, but he did not have anything to do with it.”
VUT had frozen Diago’s position and would not replace him, Khuboni said. “The university is commissioning a work study soon which will determine the human resource needs of the university.”
Zide told Times Select he felt targeted by employees who wanted to “tarnish his name” in the media. This, he believed, was because of the forensic investigation he ordered into the university, including his department.