Cape Town - There are unanimous calls for an independent assessor (IA) to be called in to evaluate the validity and partiality of UCT’s independent panel investigation report into governance issues at the university.
The parliamentary portfolio committee for higher education, science and innovation was briefed by UCT on the findings and recommendations of the report, actions taken by the university to implement the recommendations in the report, and an update on filling the vice-chancellor’s post, at UCT’s Bremner Building yesterday.
UCT’s Council took a decision to establish an independent panel in October 2022, led by Judge Lex Mpati, Judge Azhar Cachalia, Dr Bernadette Johnson and Dr Patricia Hanekom, and whose work commenced in January 2023 covering the period 20182022.
The panel was to investigate the circumstances surrounding the termination of associate professor Lis Lange’s contract as deputy vice-chancellor for teaching and learning, whether the Senate was misled by former vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng and former Council chairperson Babalwa Ngonyama, executive relationships, and the reasons for senior resignations. During the period under review, nine senior staff members had resigned.
Committee chairperson Nompendulo Mkhatshwa said: “It is difficult to read this report. Many of us are sitting here and battling to see the objectivity in the report. It doesn’t look objective, it doesn’t feel objective and because the process that was followed is also under question, it’s inevitable that it’s going to look biased, racially induced or driven, it looks sexist, it just looks wrong.”
The report received little to no support from the Student Representative Council and trade unions present.
“Not all stakeholders are happy. There is a sense of intimidation within this space no matter how small it is, it’s not favourable to have that in an institution,” Mkhatshwa said.
“We are not saying that we must interrogate the work that the panel did, we’re actually saying there must be a whole new process that is led by an IA. We are not calling for administration either.”
The Department of Higher Education deputy director-general responsible for universities, Marcia Socikwa, said: “I think the meeting here was enlightening to us as a department. First, it showed the fractures in UCT and it is really discouraging in many ways because we were given an impression that things are fine at UCT, that things are improving.
“This is the assurance that we were getting from the university and it is very clear that there is a lot of work that is required to first build confidence among all stakeholders that things are okay. And what I felt was a huge omission in this report was the tone of reconciliation.”
Socikwa said that were Council confident in the report, it would invite an IA to confirm and affirm the recommendations. The report noted that disciplinary action should be instituted against Professor Elelwani Ramugondo, Dr Lwazi Lushaba, and Pheladi Gwangwa, for breaching the Council’s code of conduct.
Ramugondo, who is UCT’s deputy vice-chancellor for transformation, student affairs and social responsiveness, was the only person implicated in the report present at the briefing.
On the issue of transformation and redress, Ramugondo, who served in the UCT Senate under five vice-chancellors, and an academic at UCT since 1998, said there were certain patterns that were evident.
“The pattern that needs to be very clear to everyone in the room regarding vice-chancellors … is that two out of the five did not have a second term, they didn’t finish their first term either, and both are African women. I leave that for you to think about and I ask you to think about in terms of what we mean by transformation today.”