University of Cape Town

'You put us in danger': UCT governance crisis comes to a head with leadership under fire

Dean of law Danwood Chirwa sends scathing letter on behalf of his faculty

17 February 2023 - 14:04
By Tanya Farber
University of Cape Town vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng. File photo.
Image: Esa Alexander University of Cape Town vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng. File photo.

University of Cape Town (UCT) law faculty dean Danwood Chirwa has sent a scathing letter to the executive, accusing it of knowingly exposing staff and students to danger and doing nothing about it.

The letter, sent on Friday on behalf of the faculty, said staff and students were exposed to “the risk of intimidation, aggression and violence from protesting students, without taking appropriate protective and remedial measures”.

Chirwa says some staff and students were “assaulted” by protesting students while others were met with “extreme rudeness and aggression”.

He alleged the executive “appears to have known or ought to have known that the SRC would stage a shutdown of the university from Monday February 13”, but “failed to communicate to the university community about the planned shutdown and the university’s response to it”.

The letter was sent just hours before the Daily Maverick reported that the university council had opted to suspend vice-chancellor Mamokgheti Phakeng — pending the outcome of an independent investigation into a crisis of governance at the institution.

This, however, was subsequently denied by spokesperson Elijah Moholola, who told TimesLIVE: “UCT notes media reports around the status of the vice-chancellor. The university can unequivocally state that the vice-chancellor has not been suspended.”

The letter also says campus protection services were either “absent or looked on or showed no interest” in preventing these acts.

On Thursday, the executive sent a circular to staff saying that “the university is in a position to fully resume its academic project, including the face-to-face teaching and learning programme and research programmes, from Friday February 17”.

It said the university met the student representative council (SRC) and had “taken all reasonable measures to ensure that as many academically eligible students as possible receive funding support”.

It said this was difficult to attain since cumulative historic student debt was R413m.

The SRC, however, accused the executive of putting out false information, saying the issues are far from resolved, with scores of students unable to register and with many without housing.

SRC vice-president Swazi Hlophe said: “The executive used engagements with us as rubber stamps to say they have negotiated with us. However, we don’t find solutions. They don’t meet our demands and we come with viable solutions but they won’t hear our solutions.”

A vigil was held on Thursday in solidarity with the students who have nowhere to stay.

Moholola said earlier on Friday that Phakeng was unavailable as she was meeting the SRC but “she has, on more than a few occasions, publicly stated that she welcomes and will fully co-operate with the independent panel [investigation]”.

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