DA requests parliamentary investigation into nepotism at Fort Hare and Stellenbosch

Issued by Chantel King MP – DA Shadow Minister for Higher Education
04 May 2023 in News

Note to editors: Please find attached soundbite by Chantel King, MP

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has today written to the chairperson of the portfolio committee on higher education and training to request an urgent parliamentary investigation into allegations of nepotism at higher education institutions. The request follows after disturbing reports of entrenched nepotism practices in at least two of our country’s significant public universities: Fort Hare and Stellenbosch.

In the case of the former, the front page of a prominent Sunday publication last week described nepotism as “a fine art” at Fort Hare. The South African Police Service (SAPS) is currently probing nepotism involving a former Dean of the Faculty of Science and Agriculture as well as a former residence manager. In the case of the former Dean, it is alleged that she used her influence to get her son reinstated into an academic programme after he was failed for poor academic performance.

In the case of Stellenbosch University, a whistle-blower has levelled similar allegations of nepotism against the Vice Chancellor, after he allegedly granted two of his nephews admission to study medicine even though they did not qualify on merit.

Nepotism poses an existential threat to the tertiary education sector, as it undermines both academic excellence and the empowerment of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. By making family relations a decisive criterion for admission to university, nepotism constitutes a form of corruption and unfair discrimination against all other applicants who are disfavoured in the process.

The fact that two of our most prominent universities are currently mired in nepotism scandals warrants swift action from Parliament. The DA has therefore requested that the portfolio committee undertakes an urgent investigation into this matter. This should include summoning the relevant persons from Fort Hare and Stellenbosch to account before Parliament, as well as investigating the full extent of nepotistic admissions across South African public universities.

In addition to the request for an urgent investigation, the DA will be conduction oversight at Fort Hare University next week to investigate disturbing allegations, including corruption and nepotism.

An instructive example of how to handle this crisis comes from Australia, where a full-scale investigation was launched into similar accounts of nepotism at the University of Queensland that emerged a decade ago. That investigation ultimately resulted in decisive action being taken to tackle nepotism, including the dismissal of the persons involved as well as legislative reforms. The grave allegations of nepotism at both Fort Hare and Stellenbosch warrants similarly decisive action from our Parliament.