Olivier strikes back at Nkondo

Professor Fanie Olivier, summarily dismissed from Univen, takes his case to the Labour Court.

On the 4th September 2002 it will be two years, eight months and 28 days that Prof Fanie Olivier has not received his salary after being summarily dismissed by Gessler Nkondo, principal of the University of Venda. Defying High Court rulings and a CCMA arbitration award, Nkondo (aided and abetted by his friend and chairperson of the University Council, Dr Barney Pityana) has steadfastly refused to admit to the error of his ways.

On 4th September Judge Revelas heard Olivier's application to have the CCMA arbitration award made an order of Court at the Labour Court in Johannesburg. Judge Revelas reserved judgement. But the University's Adv VVW Duba intimated that if the award was granted an appeal was likely. Nkondo opposed the application on the basis that the arbitration award is being taken on review. The review process could well take another year, providing Nkondo further opportunity to try to bleed Olivier to death financially. Not so the principal, of course. He is relying heavily on the taxpayer to fund his little vendetta against the whistle blower and native who refuses to go away.

Although the parties were not allowed to have outside legal representation at the CCMA hearing last year, Nkondo's office nevertheless insisted that an attorney and an advocate from Pretoria attend the proceedings. These proceedings, held in the then Pietersburg, were staggered over many months, to fit in with the schedule of the presiding officer, Prof M Mthombeni from Gauteng.

The final taxed bill for the presence of the "legal team" at the arbitration amounted to R358 000. It is known that Asmal's office has asked the University Council for an explanation.

In another bizarre turn of events, Nkondo has employed a more sinister strategy in turning on the screws: killing both the department and the disciplines to which Olivier is attached. That started in 1998, when the Afrikaans department was instructed not to enroll any more students for degree studies in Afrikaans, including post-graduate courses aimed at upgrading teachers. At the same time the inter-disciplinary subject, literary theory, which Olivier administered, was moved to another department (and subsequently not offered any more). English became a compulsory subject for all students, making it virtually impossible for law students to enroll for Afrikaans, even if they wanted to.

There is no work for Olivier to be re-instated into, it is argued in the review papers filed with the labour court.

Fate, however, dealt Nkondo's plans a severe blow. The history department requested the Afrikaans language section to offer a Dutch beginner's course for students in international relations. Rike Olivier, an academic of almost 30 years experience in teaching Dutch at Rhodes and Wits and with Dutch as a mother tongue, accepted the challenge.

Assisted by the Dutch and Belgian embassies, she offered Dutch in the first semester of this year. With fifty students in the class, it suddenly became the largest language course at Venda, except for English for communication. The students even outnumbered the enrollment for English as a degree course.

Somehow Nkondo and his lieutenant's were unaware of these events. They were only alerted to them when they arranged a meeting to start retrenchment talks with, among others, Mrs Olivier. Realising his predicament, and with total callous disregard for the students, Nkondo cancelled the course retrospectively, less than a week before the examinations. He claimed that the module offered had never been approved by senate, and that Mrs Olivier had never been assessed in respect of her ability to offer Dutch.

The former was a technical formality, as the module had been approved as part of the Three Year Rolling Plan by the Faculty of Human Sciences some time ago. The latter was simply not true.

In a move reminiscent of Nkondo's own appointment eight years ago, his confidante Prof Marcus Ramogale was made vice-principal academic. Ramogale was apparently not strongly favoured by the Senate or by the Administrative Staff section. But he still appeared on Nkondo's short-list and he was appointed to the post.

In another manoeuvre to consolidate his authority Nkondo has just embarked on disciplinary action against members of staff who allegedly participated in a protest action on the campus in April 2000. That action was part of a meeting with Asmal and a request to the university council to conduct an inquiry into allegations of the abuse of authority at the university and to suspend Nkondo, pending the outcome of the investigation. The request followed the finding of the special investigation unit headed by Judge Willem Heath of Nkondo's unauthorised use of a credit card to the tune of more than R200 000.