Top university seeks to hold bullies accountable

Cape Town - 180413 - UCT's new Vice Chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng interviewed at Bremner Building - Reporter - Yolisa Tswanya Photographer - Tracey Adams/African News Agency/ANA

Cape Town - 180413 - UCT's new Vice Chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng interviewed at Bremner Building - Reporter - Yolisa Tswanya Photographer - Tracey Adams/African News Agency/ANA

Published Jul 27, 2021


Council members at the University of Cape Town have finally approved a bullying policy.

This comes after repeated calls for rules to hold accountable staff members through proper procedures and processes when addressing such complaints. Spokesperson for UCT, Elijah Moholola, confirmed that the university council had approved the bullying policy in June.

Although no longer at the university, the adoption of the policy is a major victory for former Ombud Zetu Makamandela-Mguqulwa, whose decade at UCT ended on December 31 as the university controversially ran down the clock on her term without addressing 37 complaints of bullying by academics and staff against the vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng in her 2019 Ombud report.

Moholola did not say what had become of the complaints against Phakeng.

The university also muzzled the Ombud via a cooked-up disciplinary process which lapsed without addressing any of the frivolous charges put to her in September 2020.

In March Makamandela-Mguqulwa wrote to the university registrar Royston Pillay, demanding the outcome of her performance appraisal and wanting to know what had happened to the disciplinary process against her.

Cape Town - 180413 - UCT's new Vice Chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng interviewed at Bremner Building - Reporter - Yolisa Tswanya Photographer - Tracey Adams/African News Agency/ANA

“I am concerned that late last year I completed the Development Dialogue process as per usual during the preceding years, but I have not received any response, nor have I heard what happened to it,” she wrote.

Makamandela-Mguqulwa asked what was the decision taken regarding her performance. “Please tell me who was responsible for this action during this past cycle preceding my end of term?” She said the decision on her performance was an essential part of her end of term.

“Lastly and equally importantly, I left UCT without hearing from Council what had happened to the misconduct case that was initiated against me. Neither I nor my legal counsel have a final answer from UCT. The charges were initiated by Council, so please do let me know what the final outcome produced by Council, as well as the final decision taken by Council were. I do need to be able to close this chapter formally,” she wrote.

She told Pillay that although UCT has attempted to cast doubt on her capabilities as Ombud, since leaving the university she had received enormous acknowledgement from colleagues in the Ombud sector, both within the country and internationally. “Given all that has happened, 2020 saw my name recorded publicly as one of three Ombuds who displayed courage in the face of value conflicts.”

In correspondence to the former Ombud on June 30, Pillay said he had been advised and authorised to convey to her that for the performance review cycle effective to mid-2020, while she was still in the employ of UCT, an assessment of her performance was confirmed at the level of E1. Makamandela-Mguqulwa was given a performance bonus.

“As per my email to you dated April 8, 2021, I confirm that no misconduct case and associated disciplinary action was followed through, and therefore, as at the expiration of your contract date, that being December 31, 2020, there is no record of a disciplinary process outcome in relation to you. So there is no record of any disciplinary outcome of which you ordinarily would have needed to be aware of, as the matter was effectively abandoned,” wrote Pillay.

Moholola said Council has appointed former University of Johanneburg vice-chancellor Professor Ihron Rensburg as the interim Ombud. He, working along with Professor Pierre de Vos, is tasked with – among others – working on the Terms of Reference for the Ombud Office. Once this process is done, Council would consider a substantive appointment.

Referring to the controversial appointment in March of Emeritus Professor Martin Hall after Deputy-Vice-Chancellor: Transformation Professor Loretta Feris “went on sabbatical”, Moholola said the selection committee for the post had to be approved by Council in accordance with the UCT policy on the appointment of new Deputy Vice-Chancellors.

Council, at its meeting on Saturday, June 19, 2021, approved the selection committee. The selection committee would now take up this important task in earnest, adhering to due process and the important time-lines.

The selection committee has had its first meeting and the post was subsequently advertised on June 29, 2021. Applications closed on Friday July 23, 2021.

Moholola also confirmed that after nearly a decade of service to UCT, Dr Russell Ally, the respected executive director of the Development and Alumni Department (DAD), took early retirement at the end of June 2021. He has since joined the University of Free State.

Ally, who has a doctorate from Cambridge, was reportedly disillusioned after being asked by the vice-chancellor to submit an application for the post, given his rapport and contribution as the architect behind the university’s Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Commission (IRTC) following tension on campus. But when presenting the names of candidates to council, Phakeng only submitted that of Hall’s.

At the time it was alleged that neither Phakeng nor the council chair Babalwa Ngonyama responded when a council member asked why there were no candidates of colour.

“UCT acknowledged the departure of Dr Ally in a recent communication to the campus community. We have recognised his many achievements and wished him well for his future.

“As a UCT alumnus, Dr Ally has a strong affinity to the university. UCT is certain his commitment to the university will continue. The university wishes Dr Ally every success. We express our gratitude to him for his significant contribution to UCT’s relationships and standing within the world of philanthropy and fundraising,” said Moholola.

Asked if black academics have hope at UCT, given how many people claim that they have been poorly treated, Moholola said this question is asked without any substantiation behind the “many people” who claim they have been poorly treated, and how they have been poorly treated.

“UCT has existing channels through which staff members can lodge any grievances. Through these formal channels, UCT is not aware of any unusual number of complaints lodged by staff,” Moholola said.

Just as they seem oblivious of the 37 individuals who complained of bullying against the vice-chancellor!