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UCT ‘approves terms of reference for panel of investigation’ at tense Council meeting

UCT ‘approves terms of reference for panel of investigation’ at tense Council meeting
From left: Council chairperson, University of Cape Town, Babalwa Ngonyama. (Photo: UCT News) | University of Cape Town vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Esa Alexander) | Gallo Images

More than 38 hours after a tense, late-night meeting of the UCT Council on Monday, 7 November, the university finally broke its silence on the outcome of the meeting.

A statement from the acting chair of the UCT Council, Marlene le Roux, released on Wednesday evening, said that the UCT Council took two “substantive decisions” at a meeting it held on Monday.  

“Firstly, it approved terms of reference for an investigation panel in order to give effect to the 15 October 2022 Council resolution to constitute such a panel. Secondly, it approved a panel of five members and a panel chair.” 

The panellists are yet to be publicly named, and Le Roux added that the details would be communicated once the panellists had confirmed acceptance of their appointments.  

Last month, Daily Maverick’s Rebecca Davis reported that the full Council would approve the final panel, which will consist of five independent individuals and be chaired by a retired judge, and will investigate governance concerns at UCT around the vice-chancellor, Mamokgethi Phakeng, and the Council chairperson, Babalwa Ngonyama.  

UCT to launch probe into conduct of vice-chancellor and chairperson after gruelling council meeting

The investigation’s terms of reference — which were approved by the Council through a vote of 15-0 on Monday — stipulate that the panel is required to present a report to the council by 31 December. The report must reach specific conclusions and recommend specific actions to be taken against any individuals. 

The panel must also prepare a report that will be made available to the UCT Senate.  

The five-person panel is tasked with investigating:

  • Whether Phakeng and Ngonyama misled the university’s governing bodies (faculty boards, Senate and Council) regarding the departure of former deputy vice-chancellor Lis Lange; and
  • Issues relating to working relationships in the university’s senior leadership team, and the reasons for a number of recent resignations. 

Additionally, the terms of reference authorise the panel to speak to any current or departed staff and UCT council members, regardless of whether they have signed non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).  

Dark days: Accusations of capture and governance instability rock UCT

The increasing use of NDAs at UCT was one of the key issues exposed by Daily Maverick’s investigation into the governance issues at the university.  

Importantly, the independent panel and university, “will ensure that no witness suffers any adverse repercussions for appearing before it or submitting evidence to it”. 

And, for the purpose of “protecting the independence of the investigation and witnesses”, hearings will be held off-campus and in camera.  

Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations

‘Challenging times’ 

The UCT Council meeting, which began at 5pm on Monday, eventually adjourned just after 1am on Tuesday morning — “with a resolution to reconvene within seven days to deal with the remaining agenda items”, said Le Roux in the statement. 

She added: “Council also received notice of resignation from Council by two members Zama Khanyile and Kholiwe Makhohliso.” 

According to the statement which provided what Daily Maverick understands is a sanitised account of Monday night’s events Council chairperson Ngonyama (who still holds the position) recused herself from Monday’s meeting, as had been the case at the last meeting.

“The deputy chairperson, Pheladi Gwangwa, opened the meeting and then gave notice that she would withdraw from further participation in the meeting,” said Le Roux.

Given that the Council chairperson and deputy chairperson were not present at the meeting, an acting chairperson — Tshidi Mokgabudi — was elected to chair the meeting until just after 10pm.

“[Mokgabudi] then indicated that Council members should not proceed further given that the meeting had gone beyond five hours into the night and beyond the scheduled time, and she requested that it be adjourned to continue the next day.”

Following Mokgabudi’s request to adjourn, a majority decision was taken via a vote to continue the meeting. 

“Individual members who had indicated that they would prefer that the meeting adjourned, including the acting chair [Mokgabudi], then exited the meeting,” said Le Roux.

As the meeting continued to be quorate, Le Roux was then elected as acting chair and the meeting continued.

According to the statement, the university Council recognised the “challenging times that currently prevail” and requested that the UCT community “exercised care and patience at this time”. DM


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