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UCT blames Western Cape government for not suspending alleged rapist professor

UCT vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng. Picture: Tracey Adam/African News Agency

UCT vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng. Picture: Tracey Adam/African News Agency

Published May 24, 2022

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Cape Town - University of Cape Town (UCT) vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng has reproached the Western Cape government and the Western Cape Health and Wellness Department for not taking action against an alleged rapist, a joint staff member of the department and UCT.

In a confidential letter addressed to the Chair of Council, UCT executive and Student Representative Council (SRC), Phakeng said the university did not have the “power” to suspend the alleged perpetrator as he is a joint staff member between UCT and the Western Cape Province and under the province’s conditions of service.

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Last week, Phakeng was criticised over her response to tweets in which a student and account user “[email protected] UCT” alleged she had been raped by a UCT professor on campus.

When alerted to this by online users, Phakeng said: “This student has refused help from the university. She must say what her real agenda is.”

Phakeng said she was introduced to the student in 2020, an employee of the province and a postgraduate student at UCT. The student was allocated a new supervisor when the allegations arose.

In 2021, the student circulated a suicide note stating Phakeng was not doing anything about her sexual harassment.

Phakeng said this year the student circulated several emails about the rape, but no case was reported. The student then reported the case to the presidency, with high-level investigators brought in.

“The student knows this, and their silence about the responsibility of the employer that she shares with the alleged perpetrator is what is puzzling here. Until this silence is explained, the question about what the agenda here is will remain.

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“This case can never be resolved until we all hear the province’s side of the story and understand why the province is not held accountable. Why is the province not suspending the alleged perpetrator?”

The SRC said the survivor had reached out to the SRC in February 2022. The incident started as racial discrimination and escalated to sexual and physical violence within UCT premises.

The SRC opposed what it referred to as an “unpleasant” solution to assign a different supervisor as the assigned professor and the accused professor have been alleged as sexual offenders.

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Provincial Health and Wellness department spokesperson Mark van der Heever said although the alleged incident happened in 2019, it was only brought to the attention of the department earlier this year.

“The department has a zero tolerance policy on sexual abuse and have appointed an investigator, and the investigation is ongoing,” he said.

Van der Heever did not respond to why the alleged perpetrator was not suspended amid the investigation.

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A source known to the Cape Argus said the student was being sued by the supervisor for false allegations, and her employer, Groote Schuur Hospital, had suspended her for gross misconduct.

Van der Heever confirmed she was suspended on February 18 this year.

“The hearing on these charges is pending. Since the student has now declared a dispute and referred the suspension matter to the bargaining council, we are unable to comment on this matter as it is now sub judice,” he said.

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