UCT Council apologises for ‘not acting sooner’ when governance issues emerged

The independent panel tasked with investigating allegations of governance issues at UCT handed over its report to the UCT Council. Picture: IOL Archives

The independent panel tasked with investigating allegations of governance issues at UCT handed over its report to the UCT Council. Picture: IOL Archives

Published Nov 1, 2023


The University of Cape Town (UCT) Council have apologised for “not acting sooner” as it adopted the findings and recommendations of the independent panel of investigation on governance matters at the institution.

The council acknowledged that from 2018 to 2022, it did not exercise its fiduciary responsibilities timeously, and it did not act in the best interests of the university.

An example was the failure of the council to act appropriately in relation to the report from the previous ombud, which resulted in an exodus of senior staff.

“We recognise that had the council at the time fulfilled its governance role as required, the events that unfolded and emotional trauma to many individuals could have been avoided. We regret not acting sooner, and we apologise unreservedly. We will be pursuing the specific recommendations relating to those who were wronged by UCT, as recommended by the report,” said UCT Chair of Council Norman Arendse (SC) on Wednesday.

Arendse said the findings and recommendations were rationally related to the purpose for which the panel was established and that it was substantively fair in that it reflected the oral and written reliable and credible evidence placed before it.

It was also agreed that the report was procedurally fair in that all witnesses against whom adverse allegations were made were invited to provide statements and that they were provided with a summary of the allegations to which they were required to respond.

The content and recommendations of the report have so far remained confidential; however, Arendse said the council recognised that it was important to share the full executive summary and report for reasons of transparency, accountability, and in the public interest.

Arendse said the council was in the process of taking remedial action and course-correcting measures in order to restore the university community and the public’s trust and confidence in UCT as a leading institution of higher learning.

“There is much to do, but we are determined to get it right,” he said.

In relation to the individuals implicated in the report, Arendse said they were deliberating an appropriate course of action. This will be done in line with UCT’s policies, procedures, and Code of Conduct.

“We are determined to use the report as a roadmap to guide us towards a future marked by accountability and transparency and a renewed commitment to strengthen the governance of the university,” he added.

In October 2022, the council established an independent panel whose work commenced in January 2023 following the highly publicised leadership struggles within its council after the early departure of Deputy Vice-Chancellor Associate Professor Lis Lange.

The independent panel of four members, headed by retired Supreme Court of Appeal president Judge Lex Mpati as the chairperson and Judge Azhar Cachalia, was established to investigate allegations of governance issues, including claims that former vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng and Council Chair Babalwa Ngonyama misled the Senate regarding the departure of deputy vice-chancellor of learning and teaching, Associate Professor Lis Lange, who claimed in a letter to the Senate that she was forced out.

Arendse was elected as the UCT Council chairperson in June, taking the reins from Babalwa Ngonyama, who stepped down from the position with immediate effect at the end of May after a scathing interim report of the panel.