Make governance investigation public, urges Cape Town v-c

Mamokgethi Phakeng speaks out as council probes issues relating to role of deputy

October 21, 2022
Mamokgethi Phakeng University of Cape Town
Source: University of Cape Town
UCT vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng

Embattled University of Cape Town (UCT) vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng has called for an investigation into governance at the institution to be made public.

The university‘s council has announced an investigation into the departure of a former deputy vice-chancellor, which is due to conclude by the end of the year. It is yet to decide whether it will livestream any hearings.

But Professor Phakeng, who has previously been named one of Africa’s most influential women, said it should be held in the open.

“I welcome the investigation and I would like it to be public, ie, livestreamed, to ensure that the real story is not mediated by biased media,” she told Times Higher Education.

It is understood that the dispute centres on the renewal of former deputy vice-chancellor Lis Lange’s contract and questions over what council chair Babalwa Ngonyama had told the university senate about her return.

The council told THE that its investigation was related to the departure of a former deputy vice-chancellor, as well as to matters related to executive relationships and resignations within and beyond the UCT executive management team.

The council said the work of the independent panel needs to be undertaken “urgently” so it can reach a conclusion by the end of the year.

However, it told THE that the composition of the five-person panel had not yet been determined.

The Black People’s National Crisis Committee – a collective of progressive activists based at Cape Town – claimed that the investigation was a “witch hunt” led by campus members who were angry at the re-election of Professor Phakeng, “a black woman who has taken this university to greater heights, while not without mistakes”.

“We will do anything and everything and anything in our power to ensure that this right-wing agenda will not succeed,” the group said.

Professor Phakeng took to Twitter following the council’s announcement to thank people for their support and encouragement.

“I’m glad that the investigation has been agreed on and that it will get under way,” she said.

“I’m looking forward to it, and ready and willing to do it publicly so that the whole country can hear my side of the story because I have kept it private.”

However, she said that she was concerned that the allegations around the investigation “keep shifting”, and she is keen to know who is going to draft the terms of reference for it because “no one should be a judge and jury in their own case”.

The UCT Academics Union – which is composed of about 650 academic staff from across the university but stressed it does not speak for all staff – also told THE of its concerns.

“Our members are enormously concerned at the governance issues that have been raised over the last weeks, and about what these mean for our institution,” it said.

Cape Town was recently named in the THE World University Rankings as the number-one-rated university in Africa.

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