South Africa

South African universities plagued by corruption

South Africa’s universities “have become huge sites for personal accumulation through budget allocations and procurement”, with many of the country’s premier higher education institutions plagued by leadership turmoil. 

Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, recently presented his department’s ongoing efforts to combat corruption at South African universities to parliament.

Nzimande said closer attention must be paid to governance at local universities as many are beset by leadership instability due to ongoing corruption scandals involving senior leadership. 

Higher education institutions have not been left unscathed by corruption that has plagued South African society and government. 

“Universities have become huge sites for personal accumulation if you look at budgets and procurement”, according to Nzimande, with many senior leaders involved. 

Nzimande paid particular attention to the University of Cape Town (UCT), Unisa, the University of Fort Hare, and the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN). 

UCT has been experiencing leadership turmoil after its Vice-Chancellor, Mamokgethi Phakeng, and council chair Babalwa Ngonyama resigned earlier this year.

Phakeng and Ngonyama resigned following allegations of mismanagement. A panel has been appointed to probe these allegations. 

Nzimande is reluctant to step in with his department, waiting for the report from the panel before deciding whether to appoint an administrator. 

The minister has been urged to appoint an administrator at Unisa to take over the role and powers of the university’s council following an independent report that detailed financial maladministration at the institution. 

Fort Hare is fragile as the safety of employees is at risk, with members of staff being murdered and numerous arson attacks occurring. 

There are also allegedly bounties on employees’ lives at the institution who refuse to be involved in corrupt practices.

An extortion scheme has recently been uncovered at UKZN, reportedly fleecing private accommodation providers of R80 million. 

Nzimande pointed to inexperienced council members at South Africa’s universities as a reason for poor administration. 

There is often poor leadership, unacceptable conduct, and general nonadherence to rules and regulations. 

For example, councils often do not even agree on meeting agendas and so meetings simply do not happen. 


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