UCT crisis: Council chair opens door for probe into allegations against VC and herself

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UCT council chairperson Babalwa Ngonyama.
UCT council chairperson Babalwa Ngonyama.
  • UCT council chairperson Babalwa Ngonyama has heeded calls for an independent investigation led by a retired judge. 
  • It comes after the publication of a dissenting statement by 13 members of the council on Friday, distancing themselves from an "irregular" and "flawed" process at a special meeting where a motion into an independent probe by a retired judge was blocked.
  • In a statement on Saturday evening, Ngonyama said she would ask the council to reconsider its decision.  

The University of Cape Town's council chairperson will ask the body to reconsider its decision not to appoint an independent, external team to probe allegations against Vice-Chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng.

This follows mounting concerns over governance at the university.

Council chairperson Babalwa Ngonyama, who is also facing allegations related to the probe, said on Saturday evening that she would ask the council to reconsider its decision. 

On Friday, a statement by 13 members of the council distanced themselves from the "irregular" and "flawed" process at a special meeting where a motion into an independent investigation by a retired judge was blocked.

Fourteen council members voted for a motion seeking an independent investigation into serious allegations levelled against Phakeng and Ngonyama.

READ | Fear, loathing and suspension rocks University of Fort Hare

The allegations centre on alleged false reasons provided by Ngonyama to the UCT senate for the early departure of Professor Lis Lange, who was deputy vice-chancellor for learning and teaching, and the proliferation of secretive non-disclosure agreements signed between Phakeng and departing senior staff. 

Ngonyama told the senate that Lange wanted to leave of her own accord for personal reasons. However, in a letter to the senate, Lange strongly disputed this, stating that she wanted to stay on for a second term in her position and that she had been effectively pushed out by Ngonyama, who had told her that Phakeng didn't want her to continue as her deputy. 

University of Cape Town vice-chancellor Professor
University of Cape Town vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng.

The motion for an independent investigation was defeated by a different motion, also supported by 14 council members, commissioning an internal, human resources-led probe into the senate's actions.

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The deciding vote fell to deputy council chair Pheladi Gwangwa, who opted for an internal investigation.

Ngonyama, in her statement on Saturday, said that the past two weeks had been challenging for the university, and had the potential to significantly damage the institution's reputation, stability and academic credibility.

"I call for calm, in the best interest of our university, as this process unfolds," she stressed. 

"Our university has, in the past, shown resilience during times of extreme difficulty and has been able to overcome them. I have no doubt that this time too, our university will overcome this and emerge stronger."

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