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MPs weigh in on UCT governance amid report of VC agreeing to R12m exit package

UCT Vice-Chancellor, Mamokgethi Phakeng. File Picture: Bheki Radebe/African News Agency (ANA)

UCT Vice-Chancellor, Mamokgethi Phakeng. File Picture: Bheki Radebe/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Feb 24, 2023

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Cape Town - Members of Parliament have urged Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande to intervene at UCT amid a report that the vice-chancellor, Mamokgethi Phakeng, has agreed to a R12 million early retirement package.

Questions about Phakeng’s future at the university were raised last week after reports of her alleged suspension following a decision taken when the university council met on February 9.

However, UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola and chairperson of the council, Babalwa Ngonyama quickly refuted the claims.

Ngonyama said council would meet early this week to “thoroughly and thoughtfully consider options and potential resolutions”, after which the outcome would be reported before the end of the week.

MPs on Thursday raised the issue during a National Assembly plenary briefing of the post-school education and training sector’s state of readiness for the 2023 academic year and related matters.

Al Jama-ah MP Ganief Hendricks said transformation in universities was important and the party was disappointed by the treatment Phakeng had received.

“The removal of the vice-chancellor is disappointing and this is because she is not toeing the line of the white masses. I remember this happened also to Dr Archie Mafeje, who was removed by white management.

The minister has not been to UCT. He should be there to give leadership. The minister cannot be toothless in this matter,” said Hendricks.

EFF MP Naledi Chirwa said Phakeng, as a black woman academic, “has been bullied into resigning as a lecturer and a vice-chancellor because the real supervisors of our country are unhappy about how we dress and our blackness”.

DA MP Nomsa Tarabella-Marchesi said: “As the committee, we are under the impression that an investigation is under way which will emanate into a report.

However, a quick decision was made... as the DA and committee believe we need to be brought into confidence (about) the reason for this outcome and how the institution of learning will be assisted going forward to deal with the situation.”

UCT’s Black Academic Caucus (BAC), meanwhile, expressed shock at claims that Phakeng would not return for her second term and said the independent panel investigation was crucial now more than ever.

“We would like to implore the council to not impede the work of the independent panel led by a retired Judge (Lex) Mpati.

The panel should not only investigate the allegations against the former VC and chair of the council but the complicity of the council in the deterioration of leadership and management at the university across all levels, including the conduct of the university senate.

“We urge the panel to release its terms of reference and the scope of its investigations and to broadly consult academic staff, support staff and students,” BAC secretary Dr Sabelo Hadebe said.

“We hope that the panel will conduct its work in keeping with these fundamental values of our justice system.

UCT needs an honest account of the events that have precipitated this unfortunate early departure of the VC,” he said.

Cape Times