UCT ombudsman 'acted out of mandate' in Mamokgethi Phakeng report
Share this article:
Cape Town – According to two legal opinions, UCT’s ombudsman acted out of her mandate when she released her annual report wherein she claimed that vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng was a bully.
In her report, ombudsman Zetu Makamandela-Mguqulqwa said there were a number of complaints about Phakheng that landed in her office.
“A number of work-related complaints came to me about professional interactions with the VC where people felt bullied, silenced, undermined, rebuked and/or treated unfairly.
"Their pain was visible. Some affected bystanders also came to express fear and told me how they were impacted individually by different incidents Not one of those who brought these issues wanted me to approach the VC as they feared retaliation.
"The bystanders said they would not want to experience what they saw first-hand happen to others,” Makamandela-Mguqulqwa wrote.
Makamandela-Mguqulqwa said what bothered her the most was how the visitors came in different capacities, but all spoke of the same fear.
“I became increasingly concerned about a number of things, including the bullying policy that the university has not yet finalised, and the myriad UCT communications that speak about UCT being a community,” she said.
UCT’s council and Phakheng’s office sought a legal opinion on the report, both finding the ombudsman's report was neither impartial nor neutral.
“The Message from the Ombudis neither impartial nor neutral. In this respect, this aspect of the 2019 report differs materially from the 2012 to 2018 reports.
"The previous reports address the ombud’s concerns relating to UCT at an institutional level, without ascribing fault to specific individuals the ‘Message from the Ombud’ exceeds the powers, authority and mandate and the reporting requirements of the job description, and breaches the foundational principles of the office of the ombud.
"The ombud has no power to make such pronouncements,” a legal opinion sought by council read.
The vice-chancellor's legal opinion said the report had humiliated Phakeng and while it appeared to be an annual report, “it is not in fact a report. It is an amalgam of a report and personal allegations of the incumbent against certain offices.
"To the extent that the report contains unproven and untested allegations it is ultra vires and invalid. Unfortunately, the report has already caused considerable harm.
"The office holders it accuses have already been condemned without a hearing and some without their knowledge to date,” the legal opinion read.
The spokesperson for UCT's Student Representative Council, Declan Dyer, said they believed there was an establishment within UCT that wanted Phakeng out.
“I am highly concerned at the apparent leaking of confidential information by members of council. This is clear from the fact that less than a day after the release of the ombud's report, a highly detailed investigative piece was released (via other media), with information that would not have materialised overnight.
“It suggests that members of council are complicit in a leaking of confidential information to the media. It once again reminds us that there is an establishment within UCT that has sought to oust Professor Phakeng since before her term as VC began.
"This establishment is now using the ombud's report in a political campaign against the VC.”
He added that the release of the ombud's report must be strongly condemned and council should take the appropriate action against Makamandela-Mguqulqwa’s office.