UCT vice-chancellor apologises, retracts tweet questioning student's 'agenda' over rape claim

University of Cape Town vice-chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng.
University of Cape Town vice-chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng.
PHOTO: Esa Alexander, Gallo Images/Sunday Times
  • UCT vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng has withdrawn a tweet in response to a student’s rape allegations.
  • Phakeng came under fire for claiming the student had an "agenda".
  • She has admitted that her tweet was insensitive.

University of Cape Town (UCT) vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng has apologised for her tweet in response to a student who claimed she had been raped on campus, allegedly by a professor at the institution.

Last Wednesday, Phakeng drew sharp criticism from people on social media when she questioned the motives behind a student, whose Twitter handle is RAPED@UCT, posting the claims.

In a statement, Phakeng said:

I have taken time to reflect on my response to a recent social media response to a post by @RAPEDATUCT. I fully understand the anger that followed my comment and I believe it was justified because our country continues to battle with the scourge of sexual and gender-based violence.

Phakeng had tweeted that the student "must say what her real agenda is", and claimed that she had refused any help from the university.

Her comment seemed to be at odds with a statement UCT had issued earlier in the day.

The university's statement said that an internal investigation had been launched, and that the student had offered the university's support.

The incident is also under investigation by the police.

Phakeng's tweets sparked outrage, with students calling for her to retract her statements.

At the time, UCT declined to respond to several questions News24 posed about the possible impact of the vice-chancellor's message.

READ | UCT SRC wants vice-chancellor Phakeng to retract tweet dismissing student's rape claim

"Without context, my comment was insensitive to say the least. I withdraw the tweet and offer my sincere apology. I will continue to do all I can to ensure that our students are safe," said Phakeng.

She reassured students and parents that there was no place at UCT for "despicable, offensive and violent conduct against women", and that the university did not protect the perpetrators of gender-based violence.

Phakeng said:

Our students should never allow anyone to subject them to any abuse. The main purpose of this apology and withdrawal of my tweet is to make sure that our students have the courage to report such conduct, with the confidence that we will act.

UCT Council chair Babalwa Ngonyama said the university would not tolerate behaviour that was not in line with its stated values, and would "address breaches of those values internally".

She added that she had engaged with Phakeng "to ensure that we learn and grow from these challenges".

"Professor Phakeng has reflected on the matter and has issued a public statement of apology and withdrawn the tweet concerned. Her statement recognises the gravity of the situation and is an important step in the process of moving forward on this very important matter for the university and all concerned," Ngonyama said.

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