Nzimande kept in the dark on UCT vice-chancellor’s ‘early retirement’

The Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Dr Blade Nzimande has been kept in the dark about issues involving the University of Cape Town (UCT) vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng’s early retirement.

He has also not been kept in the loop about other issues around the instability in the executive of Africa’s number one higher education institution.

Even after the first official communication to students and staff on Friday by university chair Babalwa Ngonyama, who confirmed that Prof Phakeng would be taking early retirement effective on March 3, Nzimande’s office was still not able to comment on the matter.

Nzimande’s spokesperson Ishmael Mnisi said: “The minister has not been officially informed by the university council about the exit package of Prof Phakeng

“The minister will respond further upon receival of the formal report from the university council,” he told Sunday World in a written reply.

“The minister hopes that the UCT council is approaching the matter of the UCT VC with requisite care and application of the labour law as required by Section 34 (3) of the Higher Education Act,” said Mnisi.

Phakeng, who in 2002 became the first black female South African to obtain a PhD in mathematics education, leaves UCT in the middle of a panel investigation comprising five judges probing the circumstances related to the departure of UCT deputy vice-chancellor for teaching and learning associate professor Lis Lange, and matters related to executive relationships and resignations within and beyond the UCT executive management team. Phakeng and Ngonyama are at the centre of the investigation following allegations they misled the council on the real reasons for Lange’s departure.

The panel of judges, which was expected to hand in its report by the end of December, was granted an extension. In his response to questions about the departure of the vice-chancellor, UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said he was unable to answer any questions until the council signed off the official statement. He told Sunday World there was not even a chance to speak to the vice-chancellor until the official statement was issued, adding that even then there was no guarantee she would grant the media any interviews.

Phakeng, who was awarded the inaugural Africa Education Medal last year, told Sunday World in an interview following her reappointment as vice-chancellor for another term that the prize was always out on who was going to get her out of her position before her term ended.

“I always say that the prize is out as to who is going to get me finally down and out. And it’s not about me, it’s about getting the black woman who seems to be standing because that will give a message to the world that ‘black woman, this is not for you’,” she told Sunday World a few months after 78% of senate members endorsed her re-appointment as vice-chancellor for a second term.

“Even in the political arena, women, whether it is the DA or ANC, all the people who left are strong black women. It’s not easy, but we must stay the course. Every woman in a position of power must stay the course and know that the scrutiny will be excruciating.”

The Commission on Gender Equality, which requested to speak to Phakeng urgently last week, said it had also put its advances on ice.

The commission’s spokesperson, Javu Baloyi, confirmed to Sunday World that its CEO Phelisa Nkomo wanted to engage Phakeng.

“However, the latest developments put brakes to the plans,” Baloyi said, not providing answers to specific questions posed to the commission on its interest in engaging with Phakeng.

At the time of going to press, Sunday World was still awaiting comment from the university’s chancellor, Dr Precious Moloi Motsepe.


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