Top black at Wits resigns

March 29, 1996

The four-month "battle of Wits" is over following the resignation of William Malegapuru Makgoba, deputy vice chancellor. The University of Wi****ersrand's most senior black academic has accepted a research professorship in the health science faculty.

Professor Makgoba stepped down from his position after reaching an agreement with nine of the 13 academics who, last year, accused him of exaggerating his curriculum vitae, of poor administration and of bringing the Johannesburg university into disrepute by making critical comments in the press.

The accusations sparked a public controversy, and Professor Makgoba - supported by a powerful black lobby in and outside the university - retaliated by revealing details of the "gang of 13's" personal files and levelling accusations of improper conduct against them. The academics were cleared of all of the allegations.

The Wits council released a statement saying that it was pleased an agreement had been reached. But "pleased" does not describe the relief the university must be feeling that the painful saga is over.

Wits sources said the university executive felt it had "won" the fight. It appears that Professor Makgoba might have been on shaky legal ground for publicising the academics' personal files, and that decreased interest in the issue on the campus this year might have made it difficult to stage mass demonstrations in support of him.

In a memorandum signed by the former deputy vice chancellor and the nine academics, it was agreed that Professor Makgoba would cease his executive duties immediately, that he would be appointed a research professor and that reasonable resources would be made available to him to embark on a research programme. He would "continue to play an important role in the transformation of the university", it said.

It is not yet known why four of the 13 academics - Charles van Onselen, Ian Steadman, Ron Carter and Keith Beavon - did not sign the agreement, but sources said that they tended to take a more uncompromising line than the others.

The Wits council said in its statement that a panel which was to have been established to investigate the allegations against Professor Makgoba will no longer be convened. The university is expected to begin advertising the vacated post of deputy vice chancellor soon.

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