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A mystery R4 million and mudslinging ahead of crucial NMU SRC elections

By Afikile Lugunya - Oct 18, 2017
A mystery R4 million and mudslinging ahead of crucial NMU SRC elections

In a debate that was streamed live ahead of crucial Nelson Mandela University Student Representative Council elections that are taking place on Wednesday, the issue of R4 million that the current interim SRC has apparently failed to account for became the topic of discussion.

Wednesday's elections are expected to usher in a proper structure after a compromise was reached last year to have an interim structure following the chaos of the #FeeMustFall protests. The protests resulted in the university failing to hold the annual SRC elections.

During the debate on Tuesday, the Democratic Alliance Students Organisation's (DASO), Awonke Vabaza, challenged the South African Students Congress' (SASCO) Pedro Mzileni to account for the ‘R4 million’ claiming that he had lied to the media during a SASCO press conference on Monday.

Mzileni is the current convener of the interim SRC.

At the press conference, he had sought to set the record straight after DASO accused the structure of failing to account for about R4 million.

Mzileni called the allegations mischievious and outlined how, at the beginning of the year, the SRC fund was disbersed to all student organisations at the NMU - including DASO.

However, during the debate Vabaza alleged that Mzileni had stolen a stamp that was used to certify the emails that Mzileni had as proof that no R4 million was stolen.

Mzileni instead accused a DASO member, Ian Tafadzwa Shonhiwa, who was interim SRC converner for the first half of the year,  of abusing that position and misappropriating close to R24 000 of the SRC fund.

At the SASCO media briefing, the movement had a stack of emails, which Mzileni said contained proof that Shonhiwa took advantage and ordered his own food while pretending that it was for poor students.

Responding to the allegations against him, Shonhiwa said that his name was cleared of that allegation and SASCO was just electioneering and dragging his name through the mud, because he is an International student.

“The allegations were based on me using R20 000, then it went up to R34 000 and now it's R4 million.

“When I was elected as the President [of the interim SRC], I ran against Mzileni. He lost twice, and it was him and the current treasurer, Babalwa Vena, who masterminded the plan to take me down, because I am an international student," he told RNEWS.

"According to them, they didn't want a foreigner, from DASO, who's too honest, to lead the SRC."

Shonhiwa hit back with his own allegations that Mzileni defrauded the Central Disciplinary Committee (DC) and brought stamped papers and claimed that the DC had agreed that there was a case against him.

He showed RNEWS a letter from the university's legal department - dated 17 October 2017, stating that he was never at any point brought to a hearing over any matter during his time at the NMU.

“They were trying to use that to campaign for the SRC elections that are there on Wednesday.” Shonhiwa said.

No R4 million was allocated to students

NMU spokesperson, Zandile Mbabela, told RNEWS that there was no R4 million allocated to students by the institution and that they would have known if any money had been misapporiated.

“Nelson Mandela University’s interim SRC (iSRC) structure was constituted at the beginning of the year, comprising – and equally so – representatives from the various student organisations.

“The iSRC, like all the University’s student societies, fall under the Student Governance and Development office and are thus accountable to this office," she said.

“Student societies, including SRC, which had a budget allocation of R3 538 943 this year, do not have separate bank accounts, but are part of the University banking system. These undergo audits as with all other financial documents of the University.”

Leaked emails are not fake Shonhiwa explains

According to Shonhiwa, the emails that SASCO has are not fake, but are leaked records of him ordering food for students, who didn’t have accommodation and funding at the beginning of the year.

“What happened was in January until 31st of March, we had students, who didn’t have accommodation or funding. An agreement was reached, that we would get food for those students - not every day, but as they came. There is proof and witnesses for this agreement.

“Then, I was the South Campus Site Rep and had a phone and computer in my office. I was given the responsibility to send the requests,” Shonhiwa explained.

He further added that SASCO actually contributed in making sure that the needy students received food.

"At the time, the very people, who claim that I misused the funds, were there and sometimes would also bring students or give me the numbers of those students they were accommodating.”

Shonhiwa accused Mzileni of keeping a vendetta against him after he beat him to the interim SRC convener position at the beginning of the year.

“The twist came when I was elected as the President. Pedro wanted the same position, he even cried when he lost. That’s when the plot came about," he described.

“I printed those emails that he claims to have as evidence, to show that there was nothing to hide. Apart from that, it was confirmed by the Acting Director of Student Governance, Mr Matyila, in front of all SRC members that the R21 000 or R24 000 was a lie, we had only used about R2 800 for students' food.

“The Dean of Students, Mr Luthando Jack, had ordered Mr Matyila to investigate and pass a verdict and take the matter to the DC if there was a case.

"He didn’t find a case but instead, Pedro took the emails and went to the DC to try to get me suspended, which also didn’t work."