MPs lobby for Independent Assessor to look into UCT governance crisis as row escalates

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/Independent Newspapers

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/Independent Newspapers

Published Nov 9, 2023


The Department of Higher Education and Training will advise Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande to urgently meet UCT’s Council, as tensions at the institution posed a threat to the 2024 academic year.

The university briefed the portfolio committee on higher education on Wednesday on the findings and recommendations of the Independent panel investigation into governance matters at UCT.

Deputy vice-chancellor (DVC) for transformation Professor Elelwani Ramugondo asked if her attendance would not create a conflict of interest because she was one of the individuals implicated in the panel's findings before the meeting began in UCT's Bremner Building.

It was clarified, though, that this was untrue and that her remarks from the meeting could not be used against her.

“The protection makes one speak truthfully and honestly about transformation at this university as a portfolio I’m responsible for.

“I have served in the Senate under five vice-chancellors, the pattern that needs to be clear to everyone in this room, is that two of the five VC’s did not have a second term and both are African women.

“I ask you to think about what we mean by ‘transformation’. UCT does not have a transformation committee; what we have is a transformation forum, then the employment equity forum.

“You tell me how an employment equity representative who is junior drives employment equity for any institution? Transformation is much more than the demographic composition given our history of our country,” said Ramugondo.

She revealed that there were 262 full professors at UCT, and of those, nine were African, 26 were coloured, 23 Indian, 107 were white and 93 were from outside the country.

“Lastly, there is also data that needs to be interrogated to understand where harm occurs, we have data on dismissed staff. We have 39 African employees who have been dismissed, 44 coloured staff, two Indian colleagues, four foreign nationals and one white colleague.

When we talk about harm we need to talk about the ultimate harm,” Ramugondo said.

UCT Council chairperson Norman Arendse said transformation was not delegated to any junior colleagues and advised the committee to not just look at raw statistics but the context of those who were dismissed.

“People are also entitled to challenge their dismissals and one must be very careful to draw conclusions by looking at numbers.

It’s always been a concern of mine the number of senior black academics and those issues must be addressed.

It would concern me if there was racial bias due to the disproportionate number of black employees of any category being dismissed. Personally, I am not aware of such cases,” said Arendse.

During the meeting, MPs called for an Independent Assessor as they expressed no confidence in the outcome of the panel’s investigation into UCTs governance.

“We note the criticism of the portfolio committee and that the former VC and others implicated are not happy and want the report reviewed.

In our view the council has satisfied itself with the report and we believe the findings were procedurally fair, rationally related to its purpose, and provides credible evidence. Council has adopted the report and will apply the recommendations.

There has been an appointed committee which is working on the recommendations and will report to Council Saturday on how to best apply them.

“The call of an assessor is noted and this will be the minister's decision, but there is no basis for an assessor.”

Arendse also poured water on allegations of conflict of interest in the process of the panel’s work or that the report might have been meddled with before being made available to the public and stakeholders.

Higher Education Deputy Director-General for Universities Dr Marcia Socikwa said: “The meeting was enlightening and showed the fractures at UCT. It is very discouraging because we were given an impression that things were improving. There is a lot of introspection needed at this phenomenal institution. Together with the minister's advisor we will report to the minister all of the recommendations.”

Committee chairperson Nompendulo Mkhatshwa gave UCT seven days to respond to questions not answered.

“I’m absolutely worried and concerned about what we have witnessed today. There is no cohesion amongst yourself, one speaks and another corrects that. You are not fine as a collective.

“We are not confident in the panel and we believe an assessor will assist. I have been battling to see the objectivity in the panel's process and it's questionable… I found phrases such as ‘supporters of Phakeng’ that don't look objective.”

New Student Representative Council president Hlamulo Khorommbi said they had many questions pertaining to the report which they believed was one-sided.

ANC MP Tebogo Letsie said if he were in the shoes of those implicated in the report, he would have taken the report under judicial review.

EFF MP Mandla Shikwambana said the “nonsense” report further divided UCT.

Cape Times