Last week, Minister of Higher Education Science and Innovation Blade Nzimande withdrew Government Notice No. 4015 published in Government Gazette No. 49582 Vol 700 on 27 October 2023. The gazette announced the decision to appoint an Administrator for the University of South Africa (Unisa).
Unisa has welcomed the minister's decision to withdraw his intention to place the university under administration. This decision comes in the wake of a ruling by the Pretoria High Court on 6 October 2023, rejecting the Minister's application for leave to appeal a previous judgement that prevented the administration.
Unisa believes that Minister Nzimande's withdrawal is a positive step and a testament to the sanctity of the courts and the rule of law.
The decision from Nzimande to withdraw the notice of the appointment of an administrator came after four consecutive court rulings in favour of Unisa. These court decisions reinforced the legal standing of the university against the Minister's attempts to place it under administration.
Minister Nzimande announced the appointment of Professor Ihron Rensburg as the Administrator for Unisa earlier this year. This move was strongly criticised with Unisa labelling it as ill-considered and insensitive, particularly given that Unisa students are currently in the midst of their examinations.
The minister has serious concerns about Unisa's administration, governance, quality, and sustainability based on reports by Professor Themba Mosia and the Ministerial Task Team. These concerns have been attributed to management shortcomings within crucial support systems and actions taken by the university's council.
After reviewing the reports prepared by the Independent Assessor, Professor Themba Mosia, and the findings of the Ministerial Task Team led by Dr Vincent Maphai, I have appointed Professor Ihron Rensburg as the Administrator for the University of South Africa (UNISA)
The university maintained that the findings made in Mosia's report were flawed.
A legal dispute began as the agreement between the Minister and Unisa, not to appoint an Administrator during the court's review of the report was broken. This agreement was elevated to a court order, solidifying its legal weight.
In November, The Pretoria High Court rejected an application for leave to appeal submitted by Nzimande. The minister had sought to appeal the decision of Judge Harshila Kooverjie, which had prevented him from placing the Unisa under administration.
After careful consideration of arguments from both parties, Judge Kooverjie dismissed the Minister's application for leave to appeal and imposed costs on him, citing a lack of prospects for success among other reasons.
After listening to both parties, Judge Kooverjie dismissed the application by Minister Nzimande for leave to appeal her judgement of 6 October 2023, with costs because the Minister’s application had no prospects of success, among other reasons.
Unisa remains focused on its commitment to providing quality education and will continue to navigate these legal challenges while upholding its reputation as South Africa's largest university.