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By Getrude Makhafola

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Stellenbosch University vice-chancellor cleared in nepotism probe

Stellenbosch University council says De Villiers did not act dishonestly.

Stellenbosch University (SU) Vice-Chancellor Wim de Villiers has been cleared of any misconduct in the nepotism scandal that rocked the institution and divided its convocation.

A panel led by retired Judge Carole Lewis was appointed to investigate allegations that he abused the Rector’s Discretionary Placement (RDP) when he had his wife’s relatives admitted as students.

‘No dishonesty’

The SU council, chaired by Nicky Newton-King, said it met on Saturday to discuss Lewis’s findings.

The investigation found that he did not breach the RDP rule or policy.

“There was no serious misconduct warranting the rector’s removal from office or the adoption of a motion in terms of section 42(3).

“It was, however, a regrettable error of judgement for the rector to place two relatives using the RDP without realising the ethical implications of this,” said the council.

ALSO READ: Heunis booted out of Stellenbosch University convocation

The probe found that he did not act dishonestly in making the discretionary placements “such as to lead to a breakdown of trust between SU and the rector”.

“On allegations of dishonesty – the rector disclosed his relationship to the two candidates to a senior colleague before allocating places to them and was advised that, because of his wide discretion, he could make the placements. 

“There is no proof, even on a balance of probabilities, that the rector acted dishonestly – with an intent to deceive or falsely represent a position.”

The report said the placement of the two relatives and De Villiers’ handling of the matter, and the attention that followed, “dented the trust of his colleagues”.

According to the council, De Villiers on Saturday apologised for the damage the allegations against him caused. He is expected to make the apology public.

He further acknowledged that he needed to restore his colleagues’ trust.

Motion against vice-chancellor thwarted

The meeting unanimously rejected the motion tabled by former convocation president Jan Heunis to remove De Villiers as vice-chancellor, saying there was no serious misconduct warranting such action.

However, De Villiers will face “appropriate financial consequences” still to be determined by the council.

Newton-King said the council was confident De Villiers and his management won’t repeat the incident.

“The council accepted and appreciated the rector’s unconditional apology for his error of judgement and the impact this has had on the institution and everyone involved.

“Both the rector and the university have learnt valuable lessons in the process. Council has confidence in the rector and his team and that this regrettable episode will not be repeated.”

Convocation divisions over De Villiers

De Villiers’ woes first surfaced after his wife’s nephew was admitted to study medicine at the institution.

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It emerged later that a matriculant who had achieved better results was rejected for the same course.

When the matriculant started asking why the application was rejected, De Villiers said he used the RDP policy to get the nephew admitted.

It was later revealed that he had quietly placed another nephew for admission, dragging SU registrar Dr Ronel Retief into the fray.

The scandal left the SU convocation divided after Heunis tabled a motion at the council to have De Villiers removed.

However, the motion hit a snag when some in the convocation and prominent SU academics backed De Villiers, accusing Heunis of unilaterally tabling the motion without consultation.

Heunis’ backers included Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Leon Schreiber.

He was consequently voted out of convocation with prominent Stellenbosch alumni and billionaire businessman Christi Wiese also voting for his removal.

Heunis’s deputy Rudy Buys has replaced him until a new executive committee is installed.

The nepotism allegations came after several racism and language scandals that rocked the Western Cape institution.

NOW READ: Inside Stellenbosch University’s tug of war over beleaguered vice-chancellor

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