UCT academics at war

Two associate professors have locked horns in a leadership tussle that has reached the desk of the vice-chancellor

A dramatic power play has been building up in the corridors and lecture halls of the University of Cape Town (UCT), where associate professor and head of department of social development Ndangwa Noyoo and another associate professor, Shose Kessi, have clashed on many things regarding leadership and roles, as well as the management of the social development department.

So bad is the situation that racism and xenophobic allegations have been thrown into the mix, with Noyoo claiming that he has been subjected to racist and xenophobic attacks, as he was born in Lusaka, Zambia.

Kessi, a Tanzanian national, who was recently appointed as acting dean in the humanities faculty, is accused by Noyoo of being a nuisance, with the latter claiming that the former is making his job a living hell at the department.

Noyoo wrote a grievance letter to the university’s vice-chancellor, Mamokgethi Phakeng, sent on February 2, in which he complained about how Kessi was out to frustrate him in his duties.

I have no choice but to stand up for my rights as I have been treated with disdain at UCT long enough and I will not take this ill-treatment any longer.
UCT head of department of social development Ndangwa Noyoo

In the letter, he claimed that after “careful consideration and critically analysing my interaction with associate professor Shose Kessi, and pondering on the way she has treated me since she became the acting dean, I am lodging an official grievance against her.

"I am appealing to your high office to adjudicate this matter because I have completely lost confidence in all structures and processes that are supposed to offer redress to academic staff at the University of Cape Town.”

Noyoo claims that he became bold enough to write the letter after giving Kessi the benefit of the doubt, with the hope that the drama would not get out of hand.

He says in the grievance letter: “I have no choice but to stand up for my rights as I have been treated with disdain at UCT long enough and I will not take this ill-treatment any longer.

"Owing to this, I am appealing to your office that she recuses herself from any matters that pertain to me, particularly my career advancement at UCT.”

He added that given that his confirmation and application for promotion are coming up shortly, he was seized with a sense of trepidation that Kessi would preside over his affairs.

Noyoo claims that he has been at the receiving end of a slanderous and vicious campaign mounted by members of staff in his department for two years.

“The former individual’s prime motive has centred on activities aimed at having me removed from the position of head of department (HOD). To achieve that, they thus engaged in underhanded machinations to delegitimise me as HOD and thus render the department ungovernable through a litany of disruptive and unsavoury activities.

Noyoo claims that he has been at the receiving end of a slanderous and vicious campaign mounted by members of staff in his department for two years

"Their agenda is also informed by racist and xenophobic motives, which want to show that, as an African, I am incapable of leading an academic department at UCT,” Noyoo claimed.

He continued to mention other lecturers who he alleged were in cahoots with Kessi to get rid of him from the department he is heading. Noyoo named six such lecturers.

“Previously, these individuals had lodged a baseless and sinister grievance against me, which solely hinged on their desire to have me removed as HOD.

"After going through an extremely corrosive and exhausting ordeal, several recommendations were made by Kessi which were supposed to have led to some semblance of sanity and stability, for example, a mediation process.

“On my part, I subjected myself to all the processes that were supposed to have resulted in resolving conflict in the department. I humbled myself and acceded to everything that was recommended by such processes, even though I felt that some of them seemed ultra vires [beyond their powers].

“However, this group of lecturers was not and is still not interested in moving forward if its wish to remove me from the HOD position is not realised.

“Despite the grievance process having been concluded, they have carried on being destructive, disruptive and engaged in activities bordering on sabotage so that I can be seen as someone who is incapable of leading a department,” wrote Noyoo in the letter.

City Press spoke to him about the challenges at UCT: “My comment in this whole saga is that all I have done since I came to UCT is seek academic excellence and try to energise the students. If that is wrong to some people then that’s fine, but I refuse to be oppressed for doing the right thing. So let them come.

Associate Professor Shose Kessi. Picture: University of Cape Town

“I stand for the truth and justice. I have no fear and I remain steadfast. I am a Pan-African revolutionary,” said Noyoo.

UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said in a statement: “UCT has in place a grievance procedure that seeks to ensure that any dissatisfactory issue is brought to the attention of the relevant authorities, and is investigated in a fair, transparent manner.

“The intention of the policy is for grievances to be resolved at the earliest stage possible and as quickly as possible.

“UCT confirms that an official grievance was lodged with regard to the matter in question. In accordance with the UCT grievance procedure, the matter is currently under investigation and is not finalised.

“The first stage of the grievance investigation was conducted and not resolved. The matter is currently at the second stage of the process. The outcome of the investigation will be shared with the complainant once the process is completed.

“Should the complainant not be happy with the outcome of the second stage, they will have the right to refer the matter to the third stage, where it will be brought to the attention of the vice-chancellor.

“If the matter is not resolved internally, the complainant has the right to refer the matter to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration in terms of the Labour Relations Act.

“The UCT grievance procedure is an internal process that is conducted in a confidential manner. The university can therefore not respond publicly to the allegations made.”

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