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Media Statement
13 May 2020
For Immediate Release

At its meeting held on 24 April 2020, the SMU Council appointed Prof Peter Mbati to the position of Vice-Chancellor after a thorough and rigorous process.  Prof Mbati will assume this role on 1 June 2020. Since the public announcement of his appointment issued by the Chairperson of Council, a plethora of articles were written in the media. In the majority of articles, there have been falsehoods peddled as facts, either about the process leading up to his appointment or the credentials and attributes of Prof Mbati. In this context, the University would like to debunk the following myths reported in the media related to this matter.

Myth 1: There was a hurry from Council to finalise the appointment of the Vice-Chancellor

There was no hurry on the part of Council to finalise the appointment. The truth of the matter is that the recruitment and selection process to fill the position of Vice-Chancellor started in the first half of 2019, after the University Council received a letter of resignation from the then Vice-Chancellor, Prof Chris De Beer. The position was advertised in the newspapers and on the SMU website, and nominations were also called from Senate, Institutional Forum (IF) and Council, as provided for in the policy. During the first round no candidates were deemed to meet the requirements of the position. Council subsequently resolved to obtain the services of an independent recruitment agency, as provided for in the University’s regulations. The position was again advertised in print and digital media. During the second round, only one (1) candidate was deemed to be meeting the requirements as spelt out in the job advert. The Selection Panel (SP) took a conscious decision that additional candidates will have to be found as it will not be fair and just to interview just one candidate and the recruitment agency was requested to expand the search. During the third round the SP shortlisted an additional three (3) candidates. In total 4 candidates were shortlisted for the position. The candidates we invited to present to a joint sitting of Council, Senate and IF, on 11 March 2020, noting that one candidate withdrew from the process on 10 March 2020 for personal reasons. Following the joint sitting presentation, the candidates were then scheduled to be interviewed on 18 March 2020, but due to the declaration of a national state of disaster by the President of the Republic of South Africa, on the evening of 15 March 2020, the external members (both who are seasoned Vice-Chancellors in own right) of the Selection Panel became unavailable to proceed with the interview process on 18 March 2020. The interviews, which were the second last phase, were then held on 16 April 2020, through a virtual meeting platform, and the three candidates were interviewed. In the last phase, Council met on 24 April 2020 through a virtual meeting platform to consider the recommendations of the SP. At the same Council meeting, Prof Peter Mbati was appointed to become the Vice-Chancellor of the University by the Council. The insinuation that Council rushed the appointment is grossly incorrect and totally disingenuous. In fact, as indicated, the interviews were originally scheduled for 18 March 2020 and the Council meeting where the appointment was to be made was scheduled for 27 March 2020. Had it not been for the lockdown commencing on midnight of 26 March 2020, the appointment would have been finalised on the 27th of March 2020 already.

Myth 2: According to the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, the position was supposed to have been gazetted, and because it was not gazetted, it did not follow the process.

It should be indicated that there is no provision in the South African Constitution, which regulates the appointment of a Vice-Chancellor. Instead, the process is regulated by the Higher Education Act, 101 of 1997, SMU Institutional Statute and relevant policies of the University. None of these legislative and regulatory frameworks provide for the gazetting of the position.

Myth 3: The Council of the University should have waited for the lockdown restrictions to be lifted before it concludes on the appointment of a Vice-Chancellor

This assertion is way beyond the pale. Apart from the fact that the process was initiated in first half of 2019 and, in so far as we know, the Disaster Management Act of 2002, under which the lockdown regulations were promulgated did not preclude the Council of the University from discharging its responsibility in terms of the Higher Education Act, 101 of 1997 and the SMU Institutional Statute. The Council of the University and its Committees continued to carry out their fiduciary responsibilities through virtual meeting platforms even during the lockdown period. Accordingly, since the appointment of a Vice-Chancellor is the responsibility of the Council, there was nothing wrong in both fact and law with the Council making the appointment during the lockdown period.

Myth 4: Prof Mbati is not experienced enough to be appointed to the position of Vice-Chancellor and does not have the requisite integrity to lead the institution

Council is of the firm view that Prof Mbati is the right person for the position of Vice-Chancellor. His impeccable credentials and performance record as an institutional leader for more than a decade puts him in good stead to lead the University. He is an accomplished scholar and researcher in his discipline, and has the capacity to take SMU to greater heights. Council did probe allegations levelled against Prof Mbati during his tenure as a Vice-Chancellor at another South African university. Council was satisfied that those allegations were tested in a court of law, and Prof Mbati was found not guilty by any court of law. The Selection Panel was also furnished with a court judgment confirming that Prof Mbati was not found guilty of any crime. As an institution that fully subscribes to the rule of law, founding provisions of the Constitution, and that respect the fundamental human rights as enshrined in the Bill of Rights, Prof Mbati should be treated as innocent until proven otherwise.

“In the face of these glaring facts elucidated above, why then are some in our midst all out to pour scorn on the appointment process, and to undermine the legitimacy of the Council and its process or even question the credentials of Prof Mbati? It is deeply troubling to observe the emerging narrative and what seems to be a coordinated campaign in both the media and public discourse, to cast aspersions on the credibility and legitimacy of these processes, and the integrity of Prof Mbati. Although these acts can be easily dismissed as signs of desperation or ignorance on the part of those who drive the campaign, when it appears to be coordinated, calculated and timely, the University community and South Africa as a whole should be worried. It is very clear that this campaign seeks to drag the good name of the Council, University and Prof Mbati through the mud. We hope that with the passage of time, the roots of this campaign will be fully exposed, and the public will be better informed”, Chairperson of Council, Ms M Rambauli commented.

The University rejects malicious rumours that the processes to appoint Prof Mbati was not above board, and reaffirms its position that Prof Mbati is deserving and experienced enough to lead the institution. These rumours can only have the effect of undermining efforts directed at rebuilding the institution. In the coming days, in the spirit of public accountability, the Council will respond comprehensively to the questions raised by Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology, or any other stakeholder or body that might have concerns about the appointment process or the credentials of the candidate.

“In spite of this malicious campaign, we call upon all members of SMU, its alumni and friends of the University to do everything in their power to work together in rebuilding the University, and to create conditions for the advancement of the University.” Ms Rambauli concluded.

Enquiries:    Dr Eric Pule, Director: Marketing and Communication
Cell:              082 3035850 or 063 5035587
Issued by:   Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University (SMU)