The university says the vice-chancellor was ‘cleared’ of the charges
Parliament’s portfolio committee on higher education, science and technology has slammed the appointment of Prof Peter Mbati as vice-chancellor of Sefako Makgatho University while he has allegations of sexual harassment hanging over his head.
Mbati was appointed as vice-chancellor less than a month ago.
The allegations against him emerged earlier this week when the committee met with the Commission on Gender Equality.
“The fitness and suitability of Prof Peter Mbati to occupy the high position of vice-chancellor of Sefako Makgatho University is in serious question.
“The question is whether the university council, and all its structures which were responsible for his appointment, were aware of the allegations of sexual harassment before they decided to recommend his appointment,” said Philly Mapulane, chairperson of the committee.
Mbati was accused of sexual harassment by Prof Thidziambi Tshivhase Phendla during his tenure as the vice-chancellor of the University of Venda.
“Prof Phendla submitted a complaint to the Commission on Gender Equality on the 11th of May 2012 alleging that she was sexually harassed on several occasions by Prof Mbati during the period 2008 and 2010,” said Mapulane.
The matter was then investigated by the commission which found the allegations to be convincing and made recommendations to the university.
“The failure by the university to discipline Prof Mbati was a direct contravention of the university’s policy on sexual harassment. The report therefore recommended that the university should implement clause 5.2 of its own sexual harassment policy by instituting formal disciplinary inquiry against Prof Mbati.
“It became apparent that the recommendations by the Gender Commission in its report dated 4 December 2014 regarding the allegations of sexual harassment against Prof Mbati were never implemented by the University of Venda,” said the parliamentary committee.
Mbati reportedly challenged and sought to review the report in the South Gauteng High Court.
“He failed to set aside the recommendations of the report, but only succeeded in gagging certain portions of the report. The court ordered the university to implement its own sexual harassment policy by calling for a report of the mediator, Mr Lavery Modise, who was appointed by the university to mediate the allegations in terms of its policy,” according to the committee.
Mbati reportedly litigated against the mediator’s report which the South Gauteng High Court directed must be produced. In an usual move, the litigation was lodged with the Thohoyandou High Court.
“Quite strangely, but not unexpected, given its reluctance to implement its own sexual harassment policy to the extent that it had to be directed by the court, the university council did not defend its own report which ultimately led to Prof Mbati obtaining a default order,” said the committee.
Modise’s report was challenged by the university in court. He did not oppose the application but opted to submit an explanatory affidavit to assist the court.
In his affidavit dated 13 March 2017, Modise confirmed under oath that Mbati had conceded that he had a sexual relationship with Phendla.
He also revealed that Mbati attempted to offer him a bribe to amend his report.
“It is noteworthy to state that the applicant improperly sought to influence me to amend my report,” said Modise in the affidavit.
The parliamentary committee said these had been allegations which called into question his suitability to be appointed as vice-chancellor.
“From the information available to the committee, it’s quite clear that Prof Mbati has employed a combination of stratagem, which included litigation and possible collusion with the university council, to avoid being held to account for the serious allegation of sexual harassment.
“What is now even worse is the allegation of attempted bribe by Mr Modise in a sworn affidavit to the Thohoyandou high court,” said Mapulane.
The committee said it would conduct a preliminary inquiry into the fitness of Mbati to be appointed and to hold the office of vice-chancellor of Sefako Makgatho University.
Attempts to reach the Mbati were unsuccessful on Sunday, however, university spokesperson Dr Eric Pule said he was aware of parliament’s probe — but maintained Mbati had been cleared of the charges.
“When the university appointed Prof Mbati, it explored all the factors and therefore, the appointment was straightforward, because as we speak, we are in possession of the evidence in which Prof Mbati was cleared by the gender commission, SAPS, public prosecutor, and the courts where he was accused. He followed all the processes and was cleared. As a university we feel the facts are not in the public as Prof [Mbati] was cleared and all the processes were followed to the letter,” said Pule.