Black staff reject Wits verdict

March 8, 1996

An inquiry by a top South African lawyer has cleared 13 senior academics at the University of Wi****ersrand of allegations of misconduct levelled against them by William Malegapuru Makgoba, the deputy vice chancellor, who they tried to get fired late last year.

Now the academics have threatened to sue Professor Makgoba - and he and the Wits Black Staff Forum have in turn rejected the findings of an inquiry conducted by advocate Malcolm Wallis.

Four months ago the mostly white academics compiled a dossier of complaints against Professor Makgoba, the university's most senior black staff member. They accused him of exaggerating his curriculum vitae, poor administration and issuing statements which brought the university into disrepute.

The incident, which led to Professor Makgoba's temporary suspension as deputy vice chancellor, sparked a countrywide controversy, allegations of racism and an extraordinary series of allegations and counter-allegations.

Professor Makgoba denied all the accusations against him, accused the 13 of using unethical methods in compiling their report, and, after accessing their personal files, drew up a list of accusations against them including tax evasion, nepotism, under-qualification and unjustifiable promotions.

Wits responded by setting up commissions: an inquiry into the 13 academics by Mr Wallis, who is chairman of the general council of the Bar, and tax expert Patrick McGurk; and a commission into the allegations against Professor Makgoba, which has yet to finalise its membership and begin its investigation.

Professor Makgoba rejected the Wallis inquiry from the start on the grounds that he had not been consulted on its composition, that no black people were on it, and that one commission should have tackled both sets of allegations.

At a press briefing after the Wits council cleared the academics, Robert Charlton, the vice chancellor, described some of the accusations against the 13 as "peanuts". The commission, he said, had concluded that "none of the facts put forward and none of the supporting documents provided any foundation or justification for the allegations made by Professor Makgoba".

Carole Lewis, dean of law at Wits and one of the 13, said the group was considering suing Professor Makgoba as one of several possible "remedies".

Professor Makgoba said that if there were to be two commissions, the university should have at least established an equitable inquiry into the 13.

"They should not have appointed a non-academic to judge academic issues," he said.

The Wits Black Staff Forum immediately echoed Professor Makgoba's views, rejected the way the Wallis inquiry was set up, the contents of the report, and the council's endorsement of its findings.

The Wits campus, site of protests in support of Professor Makgoba last year, has been quiet so far this year. However, if the deputy vice chancellor is not also cleared when the inquiry into the allegations against him finally reports, further trouble is inevitable.

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