Pretoria – The allegations of sexual impropriety that continue to haunt Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University’s head Professor Peter Mbati smack of vindictiveness and vendetta and require thorough investigation.
The parliamentary portfolio committee on higher education said it planned to conduct an inquiry into his appointment while the allegations hung over his head.
The allegations date back to 2011 when Mbati was the vice-chancellor of the University of Venda.
Mbati was thereafter cleared of the allegations by the courts, university council and the National Prosecuting Authority, and was allowed to continue with his role at the university at the time.
In 2011, Mbati was accused of sexual harassment by Professor Thidziambi Phendla, then dean of education at the University of Venda.
Phendla claimed Mbati had hounded her for sex and ousted her when she resisted.
The case was examined by the Commission for Gender Equality and dismissed by a judge.
When Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University announced his appointment in May following the departure of Professor Chris de Beer, it said a rigorous and thorough process had been conducted to acquire his services.
The university said he came with the requisite strategic leadership and management experience and sound knowledge of the higher education sector, and that institution was counting on him to lead its overall development and growth and unlock its value.
Soon after the allegations resurfaced, the portfolio committee berated Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister Dr Blade Nzimande of failing to follow due processes.
But Nzimande said he had acted within the bounds of the law and said suspicion was raised because the allegations had been made by a person who had been dismissed for corruption.
“The court dismissed the case against Mbati, and the minister could find no grounds to uphold him,” his office said.
“The minister found it disturbing that the integrity of his office and therefore that of the processes followed to appoint Mbati, were being questioned.
“If the court of law finds any new material relating to this matter the minister will follow the processes contained in the Higher Education Act to institute appropriate actions.”
Mbati told the Pretoria News: “In my official mandates, I am a steward of responsible, moral and ethical management of institutional resources and taxpayers’ money.
“In this regard, I have acted against corruption and mismanagement of resources. Individuals benefiting from corruption often fight back in the most vicious and heinous ways.
“In my case, I continue to be attacked in wicked ways that include unfounded allegations against me to harm my personal integrity.”
He said he had subjected himself to all legal processes, including the university council.
He added during the years of fighting corruption at his old job, he was persecuted and hounded by dark forces, faced death threats and his family subjected to incessant harassment.
“As a strong advocate for clean governance, my appointment at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University continues to upset some individuals, hence the continued onslaught.”
Education activist Hendrick Makaneta said Mbati was a leader with integrity, had a sterling research and academic record.
“His impressive footprints in the South African higher education sector include the massive transformation of the rural-based University of Venda, growing it into an academically vibrant campus, with a strong research and community engaged focus.
“Mbati worked tirelessly to build a world-class infrastructure so that students from the working class could enjoy studying in an environment that was comparable to the best anywhere in the world,” he said.
Legal and ethics specialist Dr Andre van Wuren said: “I understand the importance of the need to clear anyone of such allegations, but it is the resurgence of these allegations that I find lack ethical will.”
He said a study of the case gave the impression the portfolio committee had not examined both the reasons the allegations were raised again just as Mbati took over the new position but perused documentation around the investigation.