UCT in ‘racist’ split over Phakeng, Ngonyama probes

UCT stands divided over the looming investigation of its VC and council chair. PICTURE: SUPPLIED

UCT stands divided over the looming investigation of its VC and council chair. PICTURE: SUPPLIED

Published Nov 26, 2022


Cape Town - There seems to be divided voices at UCT on the investigation against vice-chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng and UCT council chairperson, Babalwa Ngonyama.

Student bodies, black academics and the caucus of workers unions believe there is a clear racist agenda to remove Phakeng and Ngonyama.

Athabile Nonxuba who was a vocal student activist during the #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustfall campaigns and is now a union representative of the Democratised Transport Logistics and Allied Workers Union, which forms part of the coalition of unions at UCT that represent workers, believes that the attack on Phakeng is racially motivated

“We have observed attacks on the VC and council chair as a ‘pushback’ tactic to her leadership.The criticism comes from white people, who question her leadership and are critical of her. These are racist sentiments from the white community who feel entitled.

“They feel UCT is their home, and black people are incapable of running an institution.”

Nonxuba is adamant that the community of white people who are against Phakeng fear that for the first time, the department of human resources and finance are headed by a black person, as is the university council.

“The white people who are calling for the removal of Phakeng are wounded. Their smear campaign is a pushback tactic against what we as unions feel are good transformation goals for the university. Phakeng is doing a good job, we even recommended her for a second term. We agree with her vision.”

Nonxuba said that as unions, the council had not engaged them regarding outcomes of council. He claimed they had not been issued with a report. They simly hear updates from the media, along with corridor gossip.

Simamkele Mtheli, who represents EFF students’ command at UCT, is adamant that there is a white-driven propaganda smear campaign against Phakeng and the chair of council.

“This attack is a result of the mischievousness of the white cabal. Phakeng has never been given an opportunity to lead. From the beginning, there was a clear racist agenda on the attempt to discredit her qualifications. There is also a clear sexist agenda, as Phakeng is both black and female.”

“The decision to elect an independent body to investigate the VC, by the same council that wants her out is telling.”

Mtheli said the election of the independent body excluded stakeholders.

“We have tried to mobilise students, but it has been difficult due to exams. The timing of these meetings was also questionable because it was during SRC elections, and the incoming SRC has just taken over. They are new and I believe there was no proper handover. So students do not know what is happening.”

Mtheli sternly warned the alleged cohort of racists who he believed were targeting Phakeng.

“These racists are opening a can of worms. They see that the university is changing. The buildings and their names are changing. We are also in the process of changing Smuts Hall.”

Liam Jacobs, the federal leader of Democratic Alliance Student Organisation DASO, said they were in favour of the independent panel.

“The issues in council are related to bad governance and not transformation. It is thus best to ensure that this panel gets under way sooner rather than later.”

DASO has also rubbished talks of this looming investigation to be part of a racist agenda.

“This issue has absolutely nothing to do with race or removals and everything to do with with ensuring that good governance manifests. The council members pushing for an independent investigation are a racially diverse group of individuals, with a variety of political affiliations and ideological outlooks.”

UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said: “The UCT Council is putting in place an investigation panel that will deal with issues relating to governance at the institution. This independent panel will carry out its duties and report back to Council.

“UCT therefore wishes not to comment further publicly on these matters pending the conclusion of the investigation.”