File picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency.
File picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency.

Why did UCT fail to act on ombud report?

By Edwin Naidu Time of article published Jul 19, 2020

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Former UCT chairperson Sipho Pityana, businessman and Save

South Africa convener who campaigned for the removal of former president Jacob Zuma to save the country from state capture, failed to save UCT when it most needed decisive leadership.

As UCT descended into chaos amid allegations of censorship, bullying and legal threats over the report of the ombudsman, Zetu Makamandela-Mguqulwa, which presented valid complaints about the vice-chancellor, Pityana went with barely a whimper.

New UCT council chairperson Babalwa Ngonyama was part of the team that ignored this report. Instead of interrogating the claims on her appointment, she has already shown bias against the ombudsman.

On Tuesday, in a statement, Ngonyama said the council has noted the UCT ombudsman’s report for 2019 which has resulted in various reports in the media.

She stressed that the Office of the Ombudsman is an independent office that reports to council but added that the decision to release such a report is the responsibility of the council.

Along with Pityana, Ngonyama failed to act on this report since March 14. Why?

This is what Ngonyama said: “Due process was not followed in the release of this report which is deeply regrettable. As the new council we are committed to ensuring that the institutional mechanisms to safeguard the integrity of the university’s processes are strengthened with due respect for the principles of administrative justice and protection of the rights of all concerned.

“Being a new governing

board, the council has the opportunity to start afresh,

to restate its commitment to

the mission of our university - which we do - and to support

the members of the university executive in their leadership and management of the university.

But on Friday in a statement to the Sunday Independent, there seems to be a change of tone. “There is also an appreciation of the concerns of UCT stakeholders. These important matters are receiving the necessary attention of the chair and the council, who are working to address and resolve the issues raised,” Ngonyama said.

Should Ngonyama, who calls her team new even though she was part of the inactive old guard, need reminding, the Office of the Ombudsman operates according to the principles below, following the International Ombudsman Association Code of Ethics:

Independence - The ombudsman is independent of UCT’s authority structures and reports to the chair of council but has access to the university’s Senior Leadership Group in order to share concern.

Informality - The Office of the Ombudsman provides additional help, but does not replace, the university’s existing resources for conflict resolution.

Impartiality - The Office of the Ombudsman considers the rights and interests of all those involved while making sure that a fair process takes place.

Confidentiality - The Office of the Ombudsman will not identify visitors without getting permission to do so. Permanent records are not kept. Reports are based on anonymous aggregate data.

Ngonyama has to show leadership Pityana lacks, unless she, too, as her biased statement shows, is under UCT vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng's spell.

* Requests for interviews were sent to UCT vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng and council chairperson Babalwa Ngonyama to address their efforts to censor the report of the Ombud.

UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said the council, under Ngonyama, the new chairperson who was part of the same team that attempted to muzzle the report under predecessor Sipho Pityana, is aware of the report of the Ombud for 2019 and the related issues that have been reported in the media.

“There is also an appreciation of the concerns of UCT stakeholders.These important matters are receiving the necessary attention of the chair and the Council, who are working to address and resolve the issues raised.”

Phakeng declined requests for interviews at this time.

“She is unable to attend to this at the moment.

“She will consider it as soon as she finds a moment to do so in the next few days and thereafter we will revert,” Moholola wrote. 

The Sunday Independent

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