UCT accused of dishonesty in response to allegations of drugs and fire involving associate professor

The University of Cape Town faces more accusations after a whistle-blower says the institution has been dishonest in their response to allegations of drugs and the fire involving Associate Professor Leon Holtzhausen. Picture: Supplied

The University of Cape Town faces more accusations after a whistle-blower says the institution has been dishonest in their response to allegations of drugs and the fire involving Associate Professor Leon Holtzhausen. Picture: Supplied

Published Apr 14, 2024


Whistle-blower and former employee Professor Ndangwa Noyoo has accused the University of Cape Town of dishonesty and covering up for Associate Professor Leon Holtzhausen who is linked to the burning of the institution’s office.

This was after UCT’s spokesperson Elijah Moholola last week told the Sunday Independent that the university conducted two investigations on the scene and found no conclusive evidence, which resulted in the institution recommending no action against Holtzhausen.

Noyoo, who is the former head of the University’s Department of Social Development, said this was a lie and a cover-up for Holtzhausen.

The incident happened in 2018, and it has been alleged that Holtzhausen, who is allegedly a drug user, is said to have started the fire to conceal the evidence implicating him from being discovered.

Noyoo said while the internal investigation which was conducted by the Campus Protection Services (CPS) and head of investigation Warren Pekeur implicated Holtzhausen, the second one was initiated to cover up for him.

However, Moholola said UCT reiterated that both the internal and external investigations found no conclusive evidence and recommended no action against Holtzhausen. He said the university noted with concern that a “former staff member” continues to share inaccurate claims in the media about the matter.

Moholola added that the university does not wish to go into details at this stage, suffice it to confirm that two investigations and reports in relation to the matter both concluded that there was no conclusive evidence against the academic and recommended no further action.

“To reiterate, two investigations were conducted on the incident that occurred in October 2018. One was an internal investigation by UCT’s Campus Protection Services (CPS) in 2018, and another was an external investigation by an independent party in 2022. Both reports found no conclusive evidence and recommended no action against the academic.

The claim that the internal investigation “established that the fire was not accidental but the arson(sic)” is incorrect. The internal CPS report, which the journalist refers to, states that the investigating officer was “unable to find the exact cause of the fire and who was responsible for the fire,” said Moholola, who added that UCT was also contacted by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) on the matter in July 2023 and has shared the relevant information in response to questions asked by the department.

He said the university is still waiting for the DHET report and will take any action as may be necessary once it has been received and studied.

Pekeur, in his report, said the footage showed Holtzhausen carrying a box that was identified and confirmed by CPS as the box that was in his office when they entered the office to extinguish the fire.

Pekeur also added that pictures of the office showed that someone was using or smoking a hookah pipe in the office.

Although an investigation by DHET found that Pekeur seems somewhat inconsequential as he did not come up with clear and concrete findings and specific recommendations, Noyoo said it was his responsibility as the then-HOD to take the matter further and he recommended disciplinary action against Holtzhausen to his immediate superior, line manager, and the dean of the Faculty of Humanities.

He said it was not Pekeur’s job to make recommendations but his responsibility as the HOD, where Holtzhausen was a staff member, to report and make recommendations against him.

Noyoo said the university and the senior managers received his recommendations to take Holtzhausen for disciplinary action but did not act. He said one of the senior managers even called Holtzhausen to his office where he was “exonerated”.

“What should have happened, then, are two processes which the dean should have spearheaded: Recommended that Holzthausen appear before a Preliminary Investigation Committee (PIC) which is Chaired by independent academics with legal standing and other credentials.

Since Holtzhausen was an Associate Professor, this PIC should have been chaired by a deputy vice-chancellor, probably for Transformation,” said Noyoo.

He said the dean should have furnished the PIC convenors the arson report which had clearly established a prima facie case against Holtzhausen and unearthed prima facie evidence linking him to the arson.

“Then the PIC should have tested the veracity and seriousness of the evidence against Holtzhausen and ascertained whether there was a prima facie case against him or not. If the PIC had established that Holtzhausen had a case to answer, then the matter should have been referred to the Committee of Inquiry (COI), which if it had found that Holtzhausen was guilty as charged, then it could have recommended for his dismissal among other things.

Holtzhausen has never been brought before a PIC or COI. Moholola and UCT management knows very well the disciplinary and other procedures that guide the university and should not lie to the South African public. This is not only mischievous but extremely diabolical,” he said.

He said he also reported the matter to Professor Shose Kessi after she was appointed as the new dean in November 2019 but she decided to constitute an ad hoc committee comprising of her friends and Holtzhausen’s friends.

“They recommended to quash the matter altogether. After this, the matter was supposedly buried forever,” said Noyoo, who added that the appointment of Holtzhausen as HOD was a staged affair and was rigged by Kessi.

Noyoo said Kessi also secured the service of a “so-called” investigator to look into the fire incident to cover up for Holtzhausen.

“I was approached by the said investigator via an email to have a meeting with her on Zoom. I knew from the way it was constituted that it was a cover-up. Nonetheless, I reluctantly accepted her invitation. It became clear to me that this ‘investigation’ was a sham and cover-up after the said investigator asked me leading questions and made suggestions that exposed her intentions.”

Noyoo said this was after the investigator allegedly asked him: “But don’t you think that it was a student who crept through a small window at the back of the office to smoke the drugs?“.

He said he felt insulted by the question.

“And I also felt that my intelligence was insulted in the same breath because this investigator was not there when the fire was doused in 2018. I was there and I was one of the first UCT officials to arrive at the scene of the crime.

“I then told her to stop interviewing me forthwith and discontinued the interview altogether. This is the investigation that Elijah Moholola refers to as an external investigation, which found no conclusive evidence and recommended no action against Holtzhausen,” said Noyoo.

Asked if it was true that Noyoo was asked the question, Moholola said UCT wishes to not comment further at this stage. He said it should also be noted that Kessi only started serving as acting dean on March 1, 2019 (some five months after the fire incident), before being appointed on a substantive basis in December 2019.

Moholola added that a dean or line manager does not appoint investigators. He said according to UCT processes, HR recommends an investigator to line managers, who then make the appointment.

A report by DHET recommended that UCT reopen the investigation to look into the manner in which the entire debacle involving allegations of Holtzhausen’s drug abusive behaviour was handled by the senior management with organisation structure.

The department also said the university should reopen the investigation into the causes of the fire and Holtzhausen’s culpability in it.