UCT council chair calls for independent probe led by retired judge as university rocked by divisions

'The past two weeks have been challenging for the University of Cape Town (UCT), with a potential for significant damage to the university’s reputation, stability and academic credibility' — council chair

09 October 2022 - 16:33
By Isaac Mahlangu
The University of Cape Town has been rocked by management infighting.
Image: Jacques Stander UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT: The University of Cape Town has been rocked by management infighting.

The University of Cape Town's council chair has called for an independent probe led by a retired judge to look into infighting among the institution’s top brass which has created instability.

In a statement on Saturday evening, Babalwa Ngonyama, announced that in the interest of a credible process, she would ask the council to reconsider its decision to opt for an internal investigation.

This comes as the university has, in the past two weeks, been rocked by a heated public fallout involving some of the university's top leaders.

“I have decided to call for an independent investigation, led by a retired judge, that also takes into account the objectives of the internal investigation,” Ngonyama said.

This comes after the council's deputy chair Pheladi Gwangwa announced the council had decided to constitute an internal subcommittee to look into the governance and procedural matters relating to a senate meeting held on September 30.

The internal probe was expected to also look into issues relating to former deputy vice-chancellor Lis Lange’s departure.

Lange had a fallout with the university's vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng.

After the council meeting a group of 13 dissenting members issued a statement decrying the state of affairs and reserving the right to take legal action.

Ngonyama said the past two weeks have been “challenging for the university” and posed a potential threat that could cause significant damage to the university's reputation, stability and academic credibility.

“I will ask council to reconsider its decision of October 6 in the interest of a process that has credibility and stakeholder buy-in,” Ngonyama said.

Tension at the university prompted intervention from minister of higher education Blade Nzimande, who has requested a council report into the matter.

Divisions within the university’s leadership structures also relate in part to the performance of Phakeng who was appointed in 2018. She received a bad review in a 2019 internal ombud report.

Strained relations within leadership structures have reignited, this time involving allegations that Lange was apparently sidelined by Phakeng.

Ngonyama called for calm “in the best interest of our university, as this process unfolds”.

“The terms of reference should be developed jointly by council, senate and our wider multi-stakeholder body: the institutional forum,” said Ngonyama.

She urged all stakeholders to support the move. “I urge all of us to give support to an independent investigation led by a retired judge to achieve its work with the necessary speed and without fear or favour,” she said.

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