DURBAN - Suspended Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) vice-chancellor (VC) Dr Enoch Duma Malaza says he feels vindicated after securing an interim interdict preventing the institution from implementing its council resolution that he retire before the end of his five-year contract.
Malaza brought an urgent Labour Court application challenging the MUT council’s decision.
In September last year, Malaza was informed of a council decision to have him retire, citing that he had reached the age of 65. His last day was to be December 31.
In the matter before court, the suspended VC said he had been appointed in 2018, and his letter of appointment had stated that his contract should not exceed five years.
According to the Labour Court judgment handed down by Judge Z Lallie on December 29, the court noted that Malaza had received a letter from MUT notifying him of the council’s decision taken at a meeting of September 22 to terminate his services in accordance with the institution’s retirement policy which would make December 31 his last day in office.
The judgment also said Malaza had sought clarity from the council, but was told that the council remained firm on its decision, and this led him to approach the Labour Court on December 3.
While MUT contended that there was no need for an urgent court application by Malaza, the judge noted that the VC was well within his rights to launch such an action as he faced the prospect of being unemployed by the end of last year.
“The applicant’s attempts to resolve this dispute between the parties failed in October 2021. In terms of the notice of retirement, his services was to be terminated on December 31, 2021. The applicant would not have obtained redress before the date of his termination in the normal course. The applicant has in the circumstances proved the urgency of his application,” read the judgment.
The court further said Malaza had relied on his letter of appointment and construed it to mean that he was employed on a five-year fixed-term contract whose duration has not expired. He had also argued that the retirement policy which the council relied on did not apply to him.
The court found that the balance of convenience favoured Malaza.
“Other than an interdict restraining the first respondent (MUT) from breaching the applicant’s contract of employment, the applicant (Malaza) has no alternative satisfactory remedy. The applicant has therefore proved his entitlement to interim relief.”
The court granted an interim interdict which ordered MUT to comply with the terms and conditions of the contract of employment it had entered into with Malaza until such time that such a contract of employment is lawfully terminated.
It further said: “The first respondent is hereby interdicted and restrained from implementing the resolution taken by the first respondent’s council of September 22, 2021.”
The court also ruled that the issue of whether the council resolution should be reviewed and set aside would be dealt with when the matter returned to court in February.
Speaking to The Mercury on Sunday, Malaza expressed his delight at the Labour Court judgment.
“When a VC gets appointed, it is on a five-year contract that is subject to possible renewal. This time around, nothing of the sort was applied, and there was no way that I would take this lying down,” said Malaza.
MUT has in the past been plagued by governance problems, leading to some calls for the institution to be placed under administration. In August last year, Higher Education Minister Dr Blade Nzimande appointed an independent assessor to conduct an investigation into the affairs at the institution.
The investigation by Professor Anthony Staak was looking at allegations that included:
- alleged misconduct and mismanagement on the part of Malaza.
- circumstances and the reasons for Malaza and other senior managers’ suspensions
- the situation that led to cash flow problems at the institution.
According to the Department of Higher Education and Training, Staak completed his assessment within the prescribed period and handed over the report to Nzimande. The department said the report was expected to be published in the Government Gazette within a 90-day period as mandated by the Higher Education Act.
MUT spokesperson Bheki Hlophe said they would not be drawn into commenting as they regarded this as a private matter.
“This is a matter between an employer and an employee, and, as such, it would be inappropriate for MUT to comment on the matter,” said the spokesperson.