MUT’s new chancellor envisions taking the institution to greater heights

South Africa - Durban - 14 March 2023 - Businessman Sandile Zungu at his house in Durban NorthPicture: Doctor Ngcobo

South Africa - Durban - 14 March 2023 - Businessman Sandile Zungu at his house in Durban NorthPicture: Doctor Ngcobo

Published Mar 17, 2023


WHEN Umlazi-born businessman Sandile Zungu assumes the role of chancellor at the Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) today, one of the tasks he has set for himself will be to engage corporate South Africa to invest in the institution.

“I will be going to corporate South Africa to say and do for them what you did for me," said Zungu during a conversation with The Mercury at his Durban home this week.

This is in reference to how corporate South Africa helped propel him from the Umlazi township, south of Durban, to the corridors of power and business success. Corporate South Africa had spotted his academic prowess as he graduated high school as a top student and they offered him a chance to study further.

Zungu was appointed as the chancellor of the institution last year and will officially be inaugurated today. He follows in the footsteps of other notable chancellors including former cabinet member Lindiwe Sisulu.

He comes into an institution that is embattled, with its council under administration. The administrator, however, has not taken over the duties of the executive. For Zungu, assuming the chancellorship of the institute that is located in Umlazi township is like returning home.

Zungu was born in Umlazi, completed his matric at Vukuzakhe High School in 1983 and completed his post-matric studies at Hilton College the following year.

He completed a BSc (mechanical engineering) degree at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 1988, as well as a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) at the UCT Graduate School of Business in 1995.

In 2000, he completed the Program for Global Leadership certificate at Harvard Business School in Boston, United States.

“I completed my matric in 1983 and it was at the height of apartheid, and petroleum company Shell was under pressure to disinvest from South Africa. They came up with the Shell scholarship scheme to persuade and placate people and to say “we are doing something for the black community”,” he said.

Speaking of his time at Hilton College, Zungu described it as a serious period. “I was a top student at Hilton. It was interesting because, here I was coming from a disadvantaged background and I was meeting white students, coloured students from relatively more privileged backgrounds.”

He said after graduating from the University of Cape Town, he worked at Richards Bay Minerals and then Engen in Durban where he worked as an engineer. At Engen refinery, he worked on project engineering.

“One of the projects I worked on was the introduction of unleaded fuel, before then all of the fuel was leaded which was causing a lot of fumes and people complained that it was causing cancers. The country launched unleaded fuel and our plant at Engen was a pilot plant – I worked on that project.”

In 1992, he moved to Johannesburg and was offered a job by one of his former bosses at Engen.

“It was the greatest of times. For the first time, I got to an environment where it was just a black team – the boss and board – so this seed of black economic empowerment was planted there for me,” he said, adding that he did not stay in this job long as he had already been accepted to UCT for his MBA.

He was offered a scholarship by a food company to do his MBA and this exposed him to the world of finance, adding that it was at this period of his life that he “fell in love with finance”. He was later hired by African Merchant Bank (AMB) which had a number of prominent stakeholders including the current president of the Republic of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa.

He spoke of the changes he underwent, moving from engineering to finance, that led him to advise senior business people like Phuthuma Nhleko and the like, and even running an investment company for a union. He was CEO of AMB for four years before going to study at Harvard.

He said after these adventures, in 2002, he moved on to start his current company Zico which has grown substantially, including owning Amazulu Football Club, interests in mining, gaming and property among other investments.

“God has been good to me. God has been good to us at Zico. We are an enterprise that can fend for itself in my group. We employ more than 20 000 people who currently depend on me for their monthly wages. We have a turnover of R100 billion largely because of mining of natural resources."

He said when he started this journey, he prayed to be a positive force in people’s lives. “At least 20 000 people that take care of their families, I know that I have made a positive influence in their lives."

He said education has always been important, “I've had this philosophy that every five years, go sit behind a desk (study), which unfortunately I could not maintain. Knowledge evolves and things change, and if you want to stay ahead of the game, go and sit with the best who research these things all the time and acquire knowledge. Five years is a long time and new knowledge emerges."

Speaking on this new role at MUT, Zungu said: “Over the years, I have been entrusted by our people and government to perform certain tasks, which in my opinion are not paying tasks, which I love and this (chancellorship of MUT) is one of those tasks. I am not expecting a cent, but it is a way of saying that I am giving back. The Umlazi community made me who I am and I am committed to doing my bit to make Umlazi a better place, to make MUT an institution that is a blessing to this township.”

He said over the years he had sat on different boards that include Denel, Ithala and other companies that were all not paying posts. Speaking on his journey to the actual appointment to the post of chancellor, he said he was approached by a “constituency” which said “Zungu, you are fit for purpose and we would love to throw your name in the ring, are you keen?”

He said before he accepted the possibility of putting his name forward for the post, he questioned what the role of the chancellor was and was told it was mobilising stakeholders to be behind MUT and to help executives do their jobs better.

“I said fine, but is the executive amenable to me working closer with them because I am not going to be a ball boy that gets sent to go and meet this person for breakfast, go and organise resources to help us.

“I am interested in how they utilise those resources because my credibility is on the line. I think it is critical for me to be assured that I can have easy access to those who are entrusted with the responsibility of managing the university. And they (the constituency) assured me that it is possible. My predecessor may have not taken their responsibilities as seriously as I am going to but no one has blocked their way,” he said.

Zungu said when the constituency assured him of this; he agreed to throw his name in for consideration but said he would not lobby for the post in any way.

He said he understands that the task of helping the institution will not be easy. “It felt good and humbling to be appointed. I felt humbled by the trust that was bestowed on me by the key stakeholders.”

He said MUT has challenges that are made more difficult by the fact that it is located in the township and as such, community issues tend to impact on the institution. “It was no wonder there was a shooting incident right at the gate (of MUT),” adding that some of the universities in the province do not have similar challenges.

Zungu said he will be working to help the institution become more attractive to everyone, including those who want to commute to the institution to get superior knowledge, those who want to live in the residence at MUT – whether they are white, black or foreign. He said his role will be to make corporate South Africa believe in MUT, to see it as part of the solution to corporate development

Speaking on the general state of higher education in the country, he said the field of education is faced with serious challenges in terms of access, funding and affordability. This is due to many people finding it unaffordable and institutions are finding it difficult to plug the funding gaps.

“Unfortunately, the universities that bear the brunt of this toxic lack of balancing of the books are those that are without endowment,” and added that traditional “white universities” had built endowments or if not, they have families that are associated with them who are now in Australia, America or the United Kingdom.

He said the chancellor or vice-chancellors of those universities can go overseas, get hosted for dinner and relate their problems, and they (families) will just write a R100 million dollar cheque and say “put it to good use".

Zungu said MUT does not have that privilege. “Part of my responsibility is to spread a message to MUT alumni, wherever they are in positions of influence, to say “Remember, the future of MUT and the sustainability of MUT is contingent on you staying close to MUT. We need you”.”

He said the challenge is not going to be resolved any time soon. “All we can do is to appeal to the constituency (students) in that in as much as you have a right to protest, do it responsibly in a way that you do not put off those who are beginning to warm up to you. Don’t burn and do it (protest) in an orderly manner to be heard.

“University is a centre of the contestation of ideas and innovation, not just in science but in a way society does things. MUT must be a tower of light. I would like to express my gratitude to the founder of MUT, Dr Mangosuthu Buthelezi, for the vision and the courage he had to champion the creation of this institution.”