- University of Cape Town (UCT) and leadership of vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng could prove to be a turning point for the top institution as early as Tuesday.
- Council chairperson Babalwa Ngonyama published a campus communication update at the weekend stating “instability at the university” was “not how we envisaged 2023 beginning”.
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The first week of the academic year was rocked by protests over fees blocks, a governance crisis over the alleged fallout between the vice-chancellor and council, confusion as to whether lectures would take place online or in person and reports of a student representative council (SRC) member’s suspension related to alleged sexual misconduct.
Ngonyama said an interdict was secured to “protect students and staff from disruptions and threats of violence” and added council met on Thursday, February 9, to “discuss issues around the VC and the instability of the executive team”.
She confirmed a council meeting was scheduled for early this week to “thoughtfully consider options and potential resolutions” and would “report back” on the way forward.
“We do not want to pre-empt any outcome,” she added.
Ngonyama wrote: “I urge you to give council the time and space to deal properly with these complex issues in the best interest of UCT.”
This comes in the wake of an information war last week, with the council purportedly confirming to some media outlets that the embattled vice-chancellor would be suspended after most of the council voted in favour of that, and Phakeng — and the university — saying she had not been suspended and was not going anywhere as an independent inquiry into her alleged misconduct continued.
The inquiry was commissioned late last year to look into the alleged misconduct of Phakeng regarding the departure of former deputy vice-chancellor Lis Lange, with some media reports suggesting the vice-chancellor had been offered early retirement that would nullify the inquiry.
On Monday, the university was in a holding pattern on campus, with some lectures resuming, others resuming online and few of the large campus community returning to what was described as a “dead” campus.
One student, who did not want to be named, said: “The confusion continues. I am in first year and made my way to lectures after being told they were happening, but ended up missing the lecture because apparently it was held online.”
The law faculty told TimesLIVE Premium lectures had “gone ahead” on Monday in the wake of its scathing letter to the executive last week about the handling of the protests and shutdowns that rocked the university.
The SRC did not respond to questions as to whether it would go ahead with protests despite an interim interdict being granted by the Cape Town high court preventing campus protests. However, the campus was quiet and Jammie shuttles ran as scheduled as heavy rain fell in the city on Monday.
Shose Kessi, dean of humanities, sent out communication saying her faculty had on Monday “decided to retain a flexible approach for this coming week with some departments continuing with online teaching”.
She said: “Specific plans would have been discussed at departmental level.”
Early on Monday a message was sent to the leadership lekgotla of the university: “Morning colleagues. Normal activities taking place on campuses with no sign of any disruptions at this stage. FHS [faculty of health science] also has normal activities taking place. All shuttles are operating to schedule. CPS [campus protection services] monitoring hotspots.”