According to three sources, the fight has given rise to racial tensions and the core of the discord are the positions of vice-chancellor and chief financial officer (CFO).
The sources say there are fears that when the contract of vice-chancellor Professor Laurens van Staden ends, the next candidate will likely be a black person which has resulted in racial factions rearing their head at one of the country’s biggest institutions of higher learning.
The suspended deputy vice-chancellor for student affairs, Dr Ezekiel Moraka, is said to be the front runner to succeed Van Staden.
Sources say his suspension was meant to eliminate him from the race.
Moraka was suspended together with the director of student governance and leadership development, Gugulethu Xaba, following the collapse of student representative council elections and the death of a student, Katlego Monareng.
The police officer who shot Monareng has been sentenced to 15 years in prison.
“Because of that serious possibility, the white senior employees in the university are now trying to ensure that the CFO is a white person. They are trying to maintain a balance and some form of power and authority by being in control of the purse,” said a source speaking on condition of anonymity.
University spokesperson Willa de Ruyter denied the claims of racial tensions and said a black vice-chancellor (VC) would not be a novelty at the institution.
De Ruyter said that since its establishment 15 years ago, the university had been led by black vice-chancellors and that Van Staden was the first white vice-chancellor.
“TUT’s senior employees, both white and black, have demonstrated their ease at working with black VCs and this speculation regarding racial tensions is false and without substance,” she said.
“Since the VC’s contract will not expire in the next six months, we are not there yet and discussions on the appointment of a new VC have not started. Therefore, we cannot claim that the alleged racial tensions exist.”
The university’s annual budget of more than R5 billion per annum is also seen as a driving force behind the situation. Big chunks of money are allegedly spent on projects that include infrastructure, security and transport.
Sources say the fight for positions also extends to that of chairperson of the council.
Dr Bandile Masuku resigned from the position and his deputy, Lulama Nare, is now in charge.
“The vacancies of senior positions are creating a serious problem for the university. Both factions are trying to ensure that there is no one side that has absolute power and control of the university.
“Unfortunately, the fights will tear the university apart.
“This year alone, the university must appoint two deputy vice-chancellors, one for institutional support and research and a CFO,” said another source.
The deputy vice-chancellor: institutional support is responsible for capital projects such as infrastructure, security and transport, the areas that use most of the university’s budget.
The fight has seen current CFO, S’celo Mahlalela, at the receiving end of a barrage of attacks, which have included questions about his qualifications, something that has also been at the centre of Parliament’s portfolio committee on education’s radar since late last year.
Despite this, De Ruyter maintains that the university has “stated the qualifications of the CFO publicly.”
The university has, however, failed to produce proof when requested by Sunday Independent.
De Ruyter also added that the parliamentary committee had never requested the qualifications, despite a statement released following its visit calling on the institution to produce the qualifications and put the matter to rest.
“The parliamentary portfolio committee did not request the university produce the qualifications of the CFO during their visit to the university on 6 February 2020.
“During the engagements, the parliamentary portfolio committee made certain recommendations regarding the issue of the qualifications of the CFO, which the university agreed to pursue and provide a comprehensive report to the committee,” De Ruyter said.
Mahlalela was accused of not being a chartered accountant and not having the relevant qualifications to hold the position.
Since last year, the university has failed to produce his qualifications, despite having them and also having run a background check which was conducted by Managed Integrity Evaluation background screening.
The Sunday Independent has seen Mahlalela’s qualifications and the MIE report.
He has a diploma in commerce, a bachelor of commerce degree, a Master’s in business administration from Regent Business School and a certificate from Harvard Business School.
Mahlalela has also been registered with the Swaziland Institute of Accountants since September 1, 2005. On April 30, 2010, he registered with the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (Acca) in London.
Asked why he was not registered in South Africa, Mahlalela said the London-based Acca was recognised globally and that allowed him to practice anywhere.
“Initially, my plan was to leave Africa and work internationally, hence I’m registered with the Acca,” he said.
Mahlalela, however, declined to comment on the reasons behind the attacks on him and referred all inquiries to the university.
The fight for the control of the university has also entered into the union space at the institution.
The National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union at the university has been split into two, with one faction demanding that Mahlalela be put on immediate suspension.
Mahlalela’s issue has been put on ice following the council’s decision to await a response from the South African Qualifications Authority as the university management has allegedly submitted his qualifications to the body.
The MIE report, which the Sunday Independent has seen, indicated that his qualifications and registrations with the aforementioned bodies were verified and found to be true.