Court Ruling Favors Unisa, Rejects Minister Administrator Decision. In a significant legal development, the Pretoria High Court issued a ruling on Wednesday that has cast a shadow of uncertainty over the future and governance of South Africa’s largest university, the University of South Africa (Unisa). The court’s decision mandates Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande to retract his earlier announcement to place Unisa under administration.
Unisa Welcomes the Court Verdict
Unisa has expressed its satisfaction with the verdict handed down by the Pretoria High Court on Wednesday. The court deemed the appointment of an administrator at the institution as unlawful, putting an end to months of deliberation and uncertainty.
Background: Minister Administrator Decision
Minister Blade Nzimande had announced the appointment of an administrator at Unisa after a careful examination of reports highlighting serious concerns about the university’s governance, administration, quality, and sustainability. These concerns were primarily linked to management deficiencies within key support systems and actions taken by the university’s council.
Unisa Critique of the Minister Decision
Unisa strongly criticized Minister Nzimande’s decision, denouncing it as ill-considered and insensitive, especially in light of ongoing exams for Unisa students.
Court Decision Alignment with Ongoing Review
Unisa underscores the alignment of the court’s decision with the ongoing review of the Independent Assessor Report, which substantially influenced the Minister’s choice but is yet to be concluded. The university firmly believes in the correctness of the court’s verdict.
Key Court Decisions
The court addressed several critical points in its ruling:
- Urgency: The matter was treated as one of urgency.
- Additional Applicants: The application for the inclusion of further applicants was approved, with no cost orders issued.
- Minister’s Decision: It was declared that the Minister’s decision, published in Government Gazette number 49582 Vol. 700 on 27 October 2023, was in breach of an earlier order and was unlawful.
- Retraction: The Minister was instructed to immediately retract the Government Gazette notice.
- Contempt: The parties were granted leave to approach the Deputy Judge President of the Gauteng High Court to address potential issues of contempt.
Unisa’s Call for Focus Amidst Legal Developments
Despite these legal developments, Unisa’s management is urging its staff and students to remain dedicated to their academic pursuits. They emphasize that their actions are not aimed at antagonizing the Minister but rather at fulfilling their duty to safeguard the institution and its stakeholders from unnecessary disruption.
The South African Union of Students (SAUS), through Asive Dlanjwa, expressed concern about the Minister’s previous “hands-off” approach to institutional management. They believe that such an approach could lead to the deterioration of institutions like Unisa, which currently faces significant challenges related to governance instability and administrative issues. Dlanjwa stressed the importance of safeguarding Unisa as a national asset for the benefit of all students and the country as a whole, calling for greater collaboration among stakeholders.
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