Complaint about unethical reporting in UWN Africa

The author, Edwin Naidu, contacted me on the 29 June informing me that he was “writing a piece on your departure and have spoken to former colleagues, and would like to interview you on the matter between you and the minister over alleged misconduct”.

I responded by informing him that, and I quote, “I have retired from the DHET [Department of Higher Education and Training] as I have reached retirement age. There is no need to be interviewed on this matter as I don’t believe there is a story”.

Naidu did not say that he had a copy of a private and confidential letter I had written to Dr Blade Nzimande, the [South African] minister of higher education, science and technology, that he intended to use to make allegations about the functioning of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). Had he told me, I would have responded differently.

Towards the end of the article, Naidu quotes an unnamed higher education ‘expert’, denigrating me on a personal and professional level. Whatever this nameless individual is an expert in, it’s certainly not the inner workings of the department.

Naidu did not inform me of these ‘expert opinions’ when he contacted me. Had he asked me to comment, I could have corrected the errors.

The ‘expert’ makes unfounded allegations about my management abilities, including that “when senior people left … they were replaced by junior people” and that “in reality, few senior people wanted to work with her”.

Factually, since I was appointed in July 2011, as the acting and later substantive deputy director-general (DDG), three senior appointments were made in the department at chief director level, and the persons appointed (Dr Whitfield Green, Dr Engela van Staden, and Dr Thandi Lewin) are highly respected in the South African higher education sector.

It is the case that Van Staden left the department in mid-2017 to take up a leadership position at one of our universities. While the post has not yet been filled, Jean Skene has ably acted in this position. Your ‘expert’ has no knowledge of internal departmental processes and the reasons behind the lack of an appointment.

An ‘expert’ is also quoted as saying “during her tenure she did not always implement plans after she agreed to do so in meetings with stakeholders”. This vague allegation is unsubstantiated mudslinging.

My record for implementing innovative programmes as the DDG in the department stands on its own, including but not limited to: the Integrated Strategic Planning Framework for Teacher Education and Development in South Africa, 2011-2025; the Strengthening Foundation Phase Teacher Education Programme; the Teaching and Learning Capacity Improvement Programme; establishing the University of Mpumalanga and Sol Plaatje University; the Macro Infrastructure Framework and infrastructure support programme; and the University Capacity Development Programme.

I request a full retraction of the damaging comments on my person and professional reputation and an apology for the unethical utilisation of a private and confidential letter to the minister, which the journalist had no right to use without informing me. I also request that this letter be published in the University World News as part of the apology and retraction.


Diane Parker (PhD, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa)

Editor’s response

The African edition of University World News stands by the article that was published. The South African government’s administration of the higher education sector is of significant public interest. As such, UWN Africa believes that any difficulties within the DHET, which have the potential to spill over into the sector, should be reported on.

In this instance, a focus of the article was the strained relationship between two of the most senior figures in DHET, the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology and the director general (head) of DHET. It is in this context that the professional relationship between Dr Blade Nzimande and Dr Diane Parker, a former deputy director-general, who left DHET, also became relevant.

The letter written by Parker, which was made available to UWN Africa, supports the concerns raised in the article by credible sources about difficulties in the department. The article makes it clear that Parker commands respect in higher education circles for her contribution, but that there has also been criticism of her tenure. The article merely reflects these different opinions about a senior public servant.

The journalist did request an interview, but Parker declined. The purpose of the interview would have been to discuss all the issues, including the content of the letter, and afford her ample opportunity to respond. UWN Africa is committed to upholding journalistic ethical principles. – Editor