UPDATE: The Citizen has run an apology to Habib for a part of the reportage in the article below. Read it here.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article omits comment from Wits University, on account of a production error. We have updated the story to reflect the original version, which now includes the university’s official response.
Wits vice-chancellor Adam Habib allegedly used his position to influence the awarding of a bursary to one of his son’s friends.
The Citizen has seen email correspondence in which Habib instructs employees at the university to secure funding for a student, who also happens to be a friend of his son, Irfan.
The emails are part of a disciplinary hearing against former Wits employee Khaya Sithole, who managed the Wits Thuthuka Project that funded qualifying accounting students through the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (Saica) and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas).
Sithole, a member of Saica, is facing disciplinary charges at the institution. He is accused of irregularly processing and approving bursary funds.
But, as detailed in a 26-page affidavit, Sithole claims all he was guilty of was following the instructions of his superiors at Wits and Saica.
Key in the list of allegations are that the transgressions he is accused of processing were done under the instruction of members who were his superiors at the time, including Habib and Saica CEO Terrence Nombembe.
“During the course of 2014, 2015 and 2016, these individuals would individually and occasionally, in cahoots with each other, initiate the addition of irregular students on the programme, in a manner that took advantage of the power they had to override any decision I made.
“This was in light of the fact that in one way or another, I reported to these individuals, and was bound by definition to comply with whatever request they advanced my way,” he says in the affidavit.
In the emails seen by The Citizen, which date back to 2014, a student at the university appeals to Habib, introducing himself as his son’s friend and complaining that despite his academic achievements and numerous applications for funding, he had yet to receive feedback.
Habib forwarded this email to his deputy Tawana Kupe and associate professor Nirupa Padia with a friendly instruction to assist him.
“See email below,” the email reads. “ I think I know him as one of the students in Irfan’s class. But my attention was drawn to the fact that he had distinctions in maths and accounting. I am not sure what he is doing. Anyway, we can help? How about Thutuka if he is doing accounting … What do you think?”
Another set of emails sees a student who did not qualify for the Thuthuka Fund appear to have been approved for funding despite the fact that she was a refugee. Sithole claimed to have done that under duress after initially objecting on the grounds that she did not qualify.
Wits University spokesperson Shirona Patel denied the allegations on Habib’s behalf, but indicated that further official comment would follow.
“The University categorically rejects the allegations made in recent days by a former employee of the University. The University is of the view that the Saica disciplinary process should be allowed to run its course without interference. The University reserves its right to comment at a later stage and to take appropriate action against any person or body who makes false allegations or brings the University’s name into disrepute.”