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OPEN LETTER: Dear Minister Pandor, Please Release Yekiso Commission Findings

By Dr Clive W. Kronenberg

FOLLOWING the death of yet another academic at South Africa’s institutions of higher learning, this time at The Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), there are increasing calls for the Department of Higher Education and Training to release the Yekiso Commission of Enquiry, tasked to investigate widespread complaints and grievances at CPUT. The Commission was tasked with investigating the relationship between management, staff and students that had led to student protests, staff either committing or attempting to commit suicide and large-scale academic neglect and workplace abuse.

The Head of the Department of Tourism and Events Management at the institution, Snyman Ohlhoff, recently took his life amid speculation that the labour dispute he was embroiled in may have led to his death. CPUT has however been silent on the matter, citing respect for Ohlhoff’s family in dealing with the matter.

“Suicide and the situation leading up to an individual’s decision to end their own life is a complex and sensitive matter, which, with respect to Mr Ohlhoff and his family, we would prefer not to engage on publicly. The institution has provided bereavement counselling to his colleagues and our thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad time,” the statement read.

However, there is now a fear that CPUT is suppressing the results of the Yekiso Commission. In a letter to the higher education and training department, a former lecturer at the institution Dr Clive W. Kronenberg says he has made submissions to the Commission and when he enquired from Judge Yekiso’s office about when the report would be released, he was informed it was completed in August 2018 and submitted to CPUT. However, a statement allegedly from the institution said the report had not been finalised.

Here’s the full letter to the Department Of Education and Training

Dear Director General Qonde

URGENT UPDATE ON COMPLAINTS IN RESPECT OF THE CAPE PENINSULA UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY AND APPEAL FOR THE MINISTER’S INTERVENTION

I hereby offer my thanks again to the office of the Honourable Minister of Higher Education and Training for looking into my complaints in relation to the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

I take this opportunity also to express appreciation for offering attention to the plight of Mr Lance Hufkie. I also confirm that, I did, in fact, lodge a formal complaint with the Press Ombuds (Sept 2017) and that no formal feedback thereon has been forthcoming.

There are two matters in particular I would like to offer some feedback and/or updates on, and I also submit a formal plea for the Honourable Minister’s direct and urgent intervention.

Firstly, I hereby draw the Honourable Minister’s urgent attention to the controversy surrounding the current status of the Yekiso Commission of Enquiry (which came into being to compile findings and submit recommendations following its investigation into, among other, various complaints and grievances from the broader CPUT community). Since I, too, had due cause to lodge an official, and in this instance substantial submission, with various proofs and substantiations, to the Yekiso Commission (attached), I in recent months enquired from Honourable Judge James Yekiso (copied to Advocate Willem Heath SC and the Commission secretary) as to the status of the Commission’s findings. In his reply mail Honourable Judge Yekiso indicates that the Commission’s work has terminated (come to an end) and that its official report has been submitted to CPUT council somewhere in the middle of August of 2018 already (communications at hand).

CPUT’s counter response, to the above, stands in direct conflict with what Judge Yekiso indicates. In a front-page Cape Argus article, written by reporter Ms Zodidi Dano, and published on Friday 14 September 2018 (i.e., almost one full month after the date Judge Yekiso indicates as the date the Commission’s findings were submitted to CPUT Council) CPUT spokesperson Ms Lauren Kansley says: ‘’ The Yekiso Commission process is ongoing, and as a result, the findings have not yet been presented to the CPUT council. ’’ (Dano, Z. 2018. CPUT accused of delaying report, Cape Argus, front page/p,1, 14 September).

Quite clearly, one of the two parties is not being honest and truthful here, a conflict that, unless addressed, can have grave consequences for basic practices in the workplace as well as the basic rights of employees. I have good reason to allege that CPUT in all probability hopes to sidestep or suppress the findings of the Yekiso Commission of Enquiry, hence the (false) indication that the Commission’s work is ongoing, and that its findings have not as yet been submitted to the university council. This, certainly, would not be the first time the institution shows scant regard for results readily indicating widespread staff dissatisfaction (see 2015 CPUT Culture Climate Results, attached). A number of ex-colleagues and students alike have previously indicated an urgent desire to participate in and/or cooperate with the Yekiso Commission, in light of, as a fellow scholar put it: ‘’ years of desperation, indignation and sheer frustration’’. There is, therefore, a sincere and authentic expectation among the broader CPUT community to be rightfully informed about matters directly concerning their work experiences and workplace.

My own turn to the Yekiso Commission of Enquiry can be seen as a last resort, to attain justice for suffering some ten years of gratuitous neglect, discrimination and abuse in the workplace. The Honourable Minister’s urgent intercession is hereby sought to ensure CPUT not only fully abides by its mandate, as South African Institution of Higher Learning, but that it makes the Yekiso Commission’s findings and recommendations available to the public. For far too long this institution has acted with impunity, believing that no one and nothing can hold it accountable, at least not publicly (see attachments to Yekiso submission).

In support of my petition here, we are also setting plans in motion that may legally oblige the institution to act appropriately and honourably, particularly insofar as making known to complainants the formal outcome of their respective submissions formally lodged with the Yekiso Commission of Enquiry. The possible suppression of the Yekiso Commission report stands in direct contravention of basic labour law, where complainants, are now denied their basic right to seek and be afforded due respite in the face of malpractices and abuse in the workplace.

The mere institution of the Yekiso Commission of Enquiry clearly purports the existence of institutional malpractices and abuse in the first instance. It is the Institution’s actual and formal response and undertakings in relation to such excesses that are of grave concern to all those who strive to uphold good labour practices, which includes the employee’s right to seek and be granted due relief (in the context of him or her operating in an oppressive and/or abusive working environment, factors that, it can reasonably be argued, inspired the coming into being of the Yekiso Commission of Enquiry, as noted).

The Honourable Minister’s attention is drawn to the fact that CPUT, is, at the end of the day, a public institution, given the fact that tax payers’ money is what basically keeps it running and operational. As such, full exposure of the Yekiso Commission’s findings and recommendations are fully in the public’s interest. For ease of reference I attach for consideration (1) my initial submission to the Yekiso Commission, (2) my formal submission to the SA Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, as well as (3) the findings of CPUT’s 2015 Culture Climate Survey which, then already, indicate unacceptably high entropy levels in the workplace, in this instance of just under 50%, meaning impending institutional implosion (see Culture Climate Survey results and the dire implication of such results, attached).

But the point is, that, in the above instance, the institution no only sought to disregard such utterly alarming results (extensive proofs of aggrieved staff deliberations and formal grievances at hand), it reacted in a hard-handed and abusive manner to deeply concerned staff members who sought to ‘make things right’ (extensive proofs at hand), myself included (extensive proofs at hand). CPUT’s propensity to disregard and trample on basic university protocol, particularly insofar as scientific research is concerned, is clearly on display in the manner in which certain of its education faculty staffs, black and coloured in particular, have been and in all probability still are treated in the workplace, which brings me to my second update.

While I did not win my CCMA case against the Dean in question here, there’s no doubting the latter’s proclivity to feign ignorance, twist the facts, and utter outright lies, to a Presiding Officer who, herself, acted procedurally improperly and naively believed these cheap concoctions to be true, even though no such proofs were presented, since they do not exist (see official letter to the VC and deans & official letter of complaint to the CCMA Cape Town Offices, detailing the legal reasons why the CCMA procedure can be considered as flawed and the outcome as unlawful, a matter that, admittedly, compels the attention of the Judge President of the Western Cape Labour Court). Most compellingly, the Dean’s formal letter of contract termination makes absolutely no reference whatsoever to things like ‘poor work performance’ or ‘questionable conduct in the workplace’, matters that, in any case, formed the core of the dean’s testimony, and, moreover, determined the CCMA Arbitration outcome.

It did not dawn on the Presiding Officer that, even if I did stand accused of the aforementioned, that absolutely no due processes were followed on the part of the employer during my employ at the institution. One does not terminate an employee’s working contract, go to the CCMA Arbitration hearing, and out of the blue concoct brews and stews that quite clearly amount to ‘poor performance’ on the part of the employee, thereby ‘justifying’ and ‘legitimising’ the non-renewal of his working contract. In other words, the reasons formerly proffered by the Dean for non-renewal of my contract carry little to no substance at all. As such, CPUT’s termination of my working contract stands in violation of South African Labour Law. And neither did the Presiding Officer deem it necessary to request proofs of ‘financial constraints’ (note that the institution’s ex, now disgraced VC was away, at home, for some eight months, while drawing a full monthly salary; note also CPUT’s comparatively high expenditure – R30m/mnth – allocated for campus security; and note also the illogicality of this directive, since almost right from my entry onto the CPUT scene I had diligently raised funds for the institution, through publication and funding applications).

The Presiding Officer did not bother to enquire what the continuance of only ‘normal operations’ actually meant. Did this include or exclude scholarly research, the backbone and lifeblood of any and all respectable institutions of higher learning and for which the NRF duly rewarded me?

Note furthermore that the institution’s Union (CPUEU) representative, Mr K. Nell, quite suddenly and without any warning, withdrew from this matter, during the CCMA Conciliation hearing, citing ‘’instructions from above,’’ thereby leaving me open and vulnerable to even further abuse and disparagement on the part of the employer.

The suppression or withholding of the Yekiso Commission’s findings and recommendations, it is strongly argued here, can and will only perpetuate the oppressive status quo, where for instance reports and proofs of naked, apartheid-style racism, typically unleash unending suffering and turmoil on complainants themselves. Legitimate complainants end up being doubly abused, to the point where they’re eventually extricated from the institution, by choice or otherwise.

Last, but certainly not least, the tragic suicide of a hardworking and devoted CPUT academic this week starkly shows the true, heart-rending impact perpetually, often open abuse can have on the human subject, in this instance more specifically, the reliable and dedicated employee.

While I, too, have come face to face with the depth of despair (note that CPUT Chancellor, Hon. Thandi Modise, as well as the South African Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Higher Education has yet to acknowledge receipt of my pleas for intermediation sent several months ago) I trust the fortitude and determination of the South African Department of Higher Education and Training to follow its obligations as set out in higher education and other legal and constitutional guidelines, rules and principles.

The suppression or withholding of the Yekiso Commission’s findings and recommendations, the Honourable Minister will agree, does not in any way serve the cause of justice.

Sincerely, and with grateful thanks for your time,

Dr Clive W. Kronenberg

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