Fourie report: allegations against Rector unfounded
Prof Wim de Villiers, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of Stellenbosch University, has been exonerated after an investigation into allegations that he had attempted to interfere in the Constitutional Court litigation related to the SU 2016 Language Policy by trying to convince Justice Edwin Cameron to accept the nomination for the election of the SU Chancellor.
Judge Burton Fourie found that 'there was no evidence to support a finding that the conduct of the Rector in regards to the nomination of Justice Cameron for the position of Chancellor of Stellenbosch University, constituted a serious violation of the law or serious misconduct'.
Judge Fourie's report was tabled at the last Council meeting of the year on 2 December. Read the full report here.
In the report, he writes:
“In my view, the [above] facts and circumstances, and in particular the conduct of the Rector, do not, when viewed holistically, give rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias on the part of Justice Cameron due to influence brought to bear upon him by Prof De Villiers. At best the evidence shows that the Rector, as he was duty-bound to do so, assisted – probably even taking the lead in identifying suitable candidates for the nomination of a new Chancellor.
Justice Cameron, on the other hand, only put his name forward for nomination when the green light was received from Adv Heunis on behalf of Gelyke Kanse. A conspectus of the evidence as a whole does not, in my opinion, point to improper conduct on the part of either of them in regard to the process of the nomination of Justice Cameron, nor that they had conducted themselves at any stage in a manner that reasonably conveyed that Justice Cameron was biased in the Gelyke Kanse litigation."
After due consideration of the report, Council adopted the following resolution:
- that Council takes note of the report of retired Judge Burton Fourie setting out the relevant facts and findings of his investigation into the complaint filed by Dr Leon Schreiber against the Rector;
- that Council accepts Judge Fourie's report, along with its conclusion that, “on the strength of the interviews and the documentation made available to [him], there is no evidence to support a finding that the conduct of the Rector in regard to the nomination of Justice Cameron for the position of Chancellor of the Stellenbosch University, constituted a serious violation of the law or serious misconduct";
- that the complainant be informed of the outcome of the investigation;
- that the report be stored in the public domain; and
- that no further action be taken with regards to the Rector's contact with Justice Cameron to ask him if he would make himself available as a candidate for the SU Chancellorship, and that Council hereby regards this entire matter as finalised.
Retired Judge Fourie was appointed to conduct an independent investigation following a complaint against Prof De Villiers. In a letter to the institution on 24 October, Dr Leon Schreiber, an alumnus of Stellenbosch University, requested Council, via the Registrar, to investigate allegations that Prof De Villiers had attempted to interfere in the Constitutional Court case by trying to convince Justice Cameron to accept the nomination for the election of the SU Chancellor.
This came after the Constitutional Court, on 10 October, unanimously found in favour of Stellenbosch University, who opposed an application by Gelyke Kanse to compel the institution to return to its 2014 Language Policy.
At its special meeting on 31 October 2019, the Executive Committee of Council, decided to launch an investigation In terms of good governance and transparency. The EC(C) then appointed retired Judge Burton Fourie to conduct the investigation. Before his retirement in 2017, he was a long-standing and respected member of the Western Cape High Court and acting member of the Supreme Court of Appeal.
In response to the report's findings, Prof De Villiers – who welcomed the EC(C) decision to launch the investigation, said:
“I repeat what I said from the get go: I did not interfere with the legal process. I am satisfied that I acted in good faith, and that the nomination and election followed due process. This has now been validated by the investigation.
“My only regret is that concerted efforts to discredit me and the University, also involved attacks on Justice Cameron and the other judges and processes of the Constitutional Court. There were no covert or sinister intensions by myself or others in our attempts to convince Justice Cameron to make himself available for the position of Chancellor.
There was no attempt at secrecy. It was common knowledge that a number of prominent SU alumni, including members of the SU Rectorate, regarded Justice Cameron as an excellent candidate for the election of a new Chancellor.
It is also totally unrealistic to allege that one person yielded so much influence to convince a bench of ten prominent Constitutional Court judges to find in favour of Stellenbosch University, and all but two of this Electoral College to vote for Justice Cameron."
With the investigation completed the University is now in a position to respond in detail.
Issued by Stellenbosch University, 2 December 2019