Bengu to intervene in Witwatersrand leaks row

December 8, 1995

Sibusiso Bengu, South African education minister, is to intervene in a row at the University of the Wi****ersrand in which the deputy vice chancellor, William Makgoba, has been suspended from his post after threats of court action and disclosures of confidential information about senior academic staff.

Professor Makgoba - accused by 13 top Wits academics of exaggerating his curriculum vitae, of poor administration and of bringing the university into disrepute - was suspended on Tuesday by Robert Charlton, vice chancellor, after he leaked information from his accusers' personal files to the press.

In response, Professor Makgoba said he would seek an interdict against the suspension, and rejected a tribunal established to probe allegations against him.

Professor Bengu said on Tuesday that he would intervene in a "spiralling sequence of actions and reactions" that indicated the university was unable to decisively resolve the crisis it faced. This is likely to spark yet another controversy, this time about government interference in university affairs.

The struggle between Professor Makgoba, tipped to be the next Wits vice chancellor, and the 13 academics has torn Wits apart during the last few weeks, and polarised black and white opinion across the country. He first ran into trouble when his transformation plan for the university was far more radical than the senior management liked.

Whites seem to feel the 13 (white) academics were justified in acting against Professor Makgoba, who had been berating the university executive in public, while black people feel the deputy vice chancellor is being attacked because he is black.

White academics are generally keeping a low profile, but senior black academics and African National Congress members have come out in Professor Makgoba's support. The irony, as the national paper Business Day pointed out, is that Professor Makgoba's appointment appeared to have been planned to rescue Wits from racial divisions of the past.

Professor Charlton suspended Professor Makgoba pending a disciplinary inquiry, saying that he had used his position to obtain the confidential files and had publicised them despite orders to the contrary. The original allegations against him, Professor Charlton said, had been made on the basis of a public curriculum vitae.

However, Professor Makgoba's supporters say that in several cases, information that reveals irregularities in the deputy vice chancellor's curriculum vitae were themselves unethically obtained.

Prforssor Makgoba retaliated by saying that the suspension was "foolish" and discriminatory, and that he had published the information in the public interest. Among the allegations are that Charles van Onselen, his main accuser, had received R10,000 (Pounds 1,786) for research excellence without evidence of published research.

He told national newspapers at the weekend that evidence he had against the 13, including accusations of tax evasion, irregular appointments and criminal conduct, was just the "tip of the iceberg" and that he would disclose further alleged irregularities shortly.

He also said that while Professor Charlton had been a good vice chancellor in the old South Africa, he was now "out of touch" and the wrong person for the job.

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