Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) slams ‘reckless’ UCT vice-chancellor tweet

UCT vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng. Picture: Jikelo/African News Agency/ANA

UCT vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng. Picture: Jikelo/African News Agency/ANA

Published May 26, 2022


Cape Town - The Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) has reacted with dismay at UCT vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng’s apology over a tweet in response to a student who alleged she had been raped on campus by a professor at the institution.

An anonymous social media account allegedly ran the victim had tweeted: “Im a UCT student raped by a UCT professor on UCT premises. I reported this to UCT and for months they failed to act/suspend rapist. UCT has instructed me to not report the matter and keep it ‘internal’. I received threats from rapist. Im in witness protection.”

In a now deleted tweet, Phakeng questioned the motives of the student, saying: “This student has refused help from the university. She must say what her real agenda is.”

After her tweet drew criticism from a number of people on social media, Phakeng apologised this week, conceding that the tweet was “insensitive”.

“I have taken time to reflect on my response to a recent social media response. I fully understand the anger that followed my comment and I believe it was justified because our country continues to battle with the scourge of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). Without context, my comment was insensitive to say the least. I withdraw the tweet and offer my sincere apology.

“There is absolutely no place at UCT for despicable, offensive and violent conduct against women, we do not tolerate such conduct. We do not pay legal fees for any alleged perpetrator and we do not protect perpetrators at all. Where our hands are tied is when the alleged perpetrator is a staff member not on our conditions of service or a student not registered at UCT. In such cases we can only support the survivor,” she said.

But CGE spokesperson Javu Baloyi said an apology was not enough.

“It is very unfortunate that the vice-chancellor who, by her societal standing; a woman and a second mother of the students, decided to make such a regrettable tweet. It is people like her that protect the perpetrators of these heinous crimes at the detriment of survivors,” he said.

“The tweet was very reckless. She cannot answer superficially on very contagious issues. An apology is not enough. It was down right dangerous for her to make such a comment via a tweet,” said Baloyi.

Two years on, there was still no justice for the student who was struggling to treat the deeply engraved emotional scars from the trauma.

While she reported the incident to the university after it happened, the processes that followed resulted in no consequences for the alleged perpetrator and her still having to report to him even after she had attempted suicide, she detailed in a complaint.

UCT Chair of Council, Babalwa Ngonyama said they were working with all parties involved to understand the full details.

“I express my deep concern, sorrow and sadness about the very serious allegations that have been made, and mindful that we have an obligation to make every effort to address the concerns that have been raised.

“In light of Professor Phakeng’s tweet of last week in relation to a post, and the wide-ranging reaction that it elicited, I have had time as the Chair of Council to engage with the vice-chancellor to ensure that we learn and grow from these challenges.

“Professor Phakeng has reflected on the matter and has issued a public statement of apology and withdrawn the tweet concerned.

“Her statement recognises the gravity of the situation and is an important step in the process of moving forward on this very important matter for the university and all concerned,” Ngonyama said.

Sonke Gender Justice co-executive director Bafana Khumalo said it was unfortunate that Phakeng responded in that manner when the matter was brought to her attention.

“The issues of sexual violence and rape is rampant in institutions of higher level. Many institutions fail to deal adequately with the scourge. But, I think it is good that she has recognised her error and apologised.

“The challenge of course is for UCT to demonstrate commitment to deal with the issue of safety for all on campus. To create appropriate structures and set up clear monitoring and evaluation systems,” she said.

Provincial Health and Wellness Department spokesperson Mark van der Heever said investigations relating to the rape allegation have not yet been concluded, and the appropriate action will be taken by the relevant parties once this happens.

The ANC in the Legislature has weighed on the matter, saying: “ANC is shocked and dismayed by the snail pace taken by the Western Cape Government Health in dealing with the alleged sexual assault incident at UCT, as well as the reported decision of disciplining the alleged victim while the alleged perpetrator remains on his job. The ANC is standing with the victim. It is no surprise that this matter has not taken priority instead the department moved with haste to punish the victim.”

Police spokesperson Sergeant Wesley Twigg said an investigation was ongoing.

“Kindly be advised that the matter you are referring to is still under investigation. No arrests have been made. The case docket was submitted to the senior public prosecutor for a decision,” he said.

Cape Times