Following the execution-style and brazen murder of the University of Fort Hare (UFH) vice-chancellor Professor Sakhela Buhlungu’s bodyguard, the underhanded and dubious transactions in South Africa’s institutions of higher education have been exposed.
Unknown gun-wielding assassins ambushed and murdered Mboneli Veseli while he was parked outside the residence of Buhlungu in eDikeni, originally Alice, in the Eastern Cape.
A series of suspected fraud and corruption investigations that have led to the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) being called in to investigate alleged wrongdoing in the granting of lucrative contracts at the historic UFH lie at the heart of the escalating hostility.
The SIU’s investigations also include charges of the sale of degrees.
The victim Veseli is not the only one.
UFH fleet and transport manager Petrus Roets was murdered in May of last year.
Roets was said to have been one of the courageous anti-corruption activists who exposed wrongdoing. According to reports, other whistleblowers within the institution are constantly looking over their shoulders, wondering who might be next on the hit list.
According to whistleblowers who spoke to Sunday World following Veseli’s untimely death, the recent events at UFH highlight the prevalence of tender fraud and the employment of hit men against perceived competitors and whistleblowers in the higher education industry.
“The issue is severe and intricate. Daniel Mafuleka, the former head of procurement at one of KwaZulu-higher Natal’s education institutions, stated that it is not only outside criminal gangs that are in league with construction cartels and feared taxi chiefs, but also a number of senior managers and council members in crucial positions.
Because the government has spent a great deal of money into big projects such as the construction of student housing, these organizations consider higher education institutions as lucrative for shady business dealings.
Mafuleka, who refused to name the university for fear of victimization, stated that he was forced to resign and escape for his life after learning about an assassination plan.
Following my suggestion to absorb and transfer support employees such as security guards and cleaning services to the university payroll, I began receiving death threats. I needed to leave my job.
“There was animosity, and some said I had become arrogant because the tender beneficiaries would lose a substantial amount of money. “However, the exercise was intended to save money for the institution, while workers received a decent salary and benefits,” he explained.
Philani Ndwalane, another anti-corruption advocate and former employee of Coastal KZN TVET and other campuses within the eThekwini metro, stated that the politicization of higher education institutions had produced a breeding ground for criminals to steal money.
“Parties are the decision-makers determining how universities should operate.
“Councils are dominated by political party operatives whose primary objective is to embezzle monies allotted for various infrastructure projects.
“This is a serious issue in so-called technical and vocational education and training colleges, particularly those located in rural areas and townships,” Ndwalane stated.
He said that after revealing the illegal awarding of tenders, he became a targeted man, prompting his departure. The final straw that broke the camel’s back. I was pursued by assassins and forced to sell my home in order to escape.
“I had uncovered major misconduct in the management of student monies and how millions of rand were squandered in investment pyramid schemes involving important members of the college administration and council. My 12-year-old daughter survived a kidnapping ordeal at some point. It took a toll on my health and became too much,” he claimed.
As numerous factions competed for control of financial resources, the TVET college had been the scene of a rash of murders and threats.
Lindinkosi Mazibuko, the institution’s director of infrastructure development, was ambushed and murdered in the college’s uMbumbulu campus parking lot in November 2020.
It is thought that he was murdered to silence him. Three student activists were assaulted, resulting in the murder of Simangaliso Khumalo, one of the leaders of student protests who questioned the misuse of funds.
During his consultation with stakeholders at Fort Hare University this week, the minister of higher education, Blade Nzimande, lamented the capture of higher education institutions, stating that they had become cash cows for criminal organizations.
“The post-secondary education and training sector, like several of our public and private sectors, is afflicted by corruption, maladministration, and capture by unscrupulous individuals posing as businesspeople who frequently partner with our institutions.
“This phenomenon is now manifest in our institutions of higher education, which are frequently targeted by criminal syndicates and aided by institution employees.” According to Nzimande, these syndicates view our institutions as cash cows.
University administrators assigned private security.
Last year, it was revealed that the University of South Africa has suggested that its top administration, including vice-chancellor Prof. Puleng LenkaBula, be allocated private security in response to purported social media death threats.
Similar threats were made against former vice-chancellor Adam Habib and his family, triggering a security assessment that found his life was in risk and that he should be protected.
The University of Technology at Mangosuthu
A forensic audit revealed that former vice-chancellor Mashupye Kgapola spent R4 693 809.78 on private bodyguards over a six-year period.