Zeitz museum boss faces disciplinary probe even though he's quit

22 June 2018 - 07:00 By Dave Chambers
It is alleged that Mark Coetzee frequently used racial slurs and sexual innuendo.
It is alleged that Mark Coetzee frequently used racial slurs and sexual innuendo.
Image: Supplied by KT Wong Foundation via Twitter

The boss of Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town has failed in a court bid to escape disciplinary action.

Museum trustees say they will now go ahead with an investigation into allegations of serious misconduct against executive director and chief curator Mark Coetzee.

The trustees wrote to Coetzee on May 15 setting out allegations against him — reported to involve his frequent use of racial slurs and sexual innuendo — and asking him to make written representations.

In court papers‚ Coetzee said he responded by resigning verbally at a meeting with the trustees the following day and told them: “I don’t want to hurt anyone.”

He asked the labour court in Cape Town to halt the disciplinary process against him‚ since he had resigned‚ and complained that some trustees were “hell-bent” on investigating him.

But the trustees told Judge Hilary Rabkin-Naicker that at no stage had Coetzee indicated his resignation would take immediate effect‚ and they intended holding him to the statutory minimum of four weeks’ notice.

They also pointed out that Coetzee’s attorney wrote to them on May 21 “seeking clarification from the trust as to whether it regarded Coetzee as having resigned.

Notably‚ the letter fails to allege that Coetzee had in fact already resigned‚ much less that he had already done so with immediate effect". Rabkin-Naicker said Coetzee and the trustees had agreed that if his court application failed — as it must — his notice period would end on June 22.

Trustees’ spokeswoman Tamra Capstick-Dale said confirmed that‚ following the ruling‚ an inquiry into the Coetzee's conduct “will go ahead”.

“Mr Coetzee had raised an urgent court interdict to prevent the enquiry proceeding. The Labour Court ruled that his resignation could not prevent the process from continuing given he was still in his notice period. The enquiry is part of a disciplinary process.

“An inquiry into Mr Coetzee’s professional conduct was initiated by the Trustees and Mr Coetzee was suspended on 16 May. He tendered his resignation thereafter. Given the process under way‚ the Trustees are unable to offer further comment‚” she said.

The museum at the V&A Waterfront‚ which opened in September 2017‚ has the biggest collection of contemporary African art on the continent and the building‚ carved out of old concrete grain silos‚ has been hailed as an artistic feat on its own.

Earlier this month it was named the best building in the Middle East and Africa by the Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat‚ and in February it won the award for best cultural building at the Arch Daily Building of the Year Awards.