Ombud faces axe after report labels UCT vice-chancellor ‘a bully’, Newsline

Cape Town – Amid ongoing tension at the University of Cape Town, ombud Zetu Makamandela-Mguqulwa is facing the axe after her report labelled the vice-chancellor, Mamokgethi Phakeng, a “bully”.

Her refusal to amend her report has resulted in her being served with a notice of suspension via email by registrar Royston Pillay this week.

The suspension follows several failed attempts by council chairperson Babalwa Ngonyama to rein in the ombud and mend the relationship between Phakeng and Makamandela-Mguqulwa.

Pillay sent an email to Makamandela-Mguqulwa asking her to attend a meeting at the request of Ngonyama.

“The purpose of the meeting is to discuss allegations of misconduct against you. Miriam Hoosain will be present in the capacity of HR representative in terms of UCT policy and process.”

In a second email, Pillay said: “The meeting was intended to advise you (Makamandela-Mguqulwa) that UCT has become aware of allegations of misconduct against you and intends placing you on suspension pending the outcome of the investigation on those allegations.”

“You have the right to be accompanied by a representative – either a colleague employee of your choice or alternatively a representative from your recognised UCT trade union,” he wrote.

The meeting is scheduled to take place tomorrow at 10am on campus.

Makamandela-Mguqulwa said she was seeking legal advice.

The push to get rid of the ombud began last month when Ngonyama in a letter to council members, on August 18, accused Makamandela-Mguqulwa of being a “law unto itself”.

“In my view, it has reached a point now where the council has to take a firm position on this matter. We cannot allow this situation to continue where the ombud believes that she is above council. This would be a very dangerous precedent to set. I am also mindful of the fact that her term ends in December 2020,” Ngonyama wrote.

Ngonyama told council members that mediation had failed and the relationship between Phakeng and the ombud had broken down after the report’s release in July. In the report, the ombud raised concerns of 37 academics who accused Phakeng of bullying.

The report says 663 people complained about issues related to the university, and 37 had complained about the conduct of the vice-chancellor where “people felt bullied, silenced, undermined, rebuked and/or treated unfairly”.

The latest salvo follows meetings between the ombud and Ngonyama with council deputy chairperson Nazeema Mohamed during which pressure was put on her to doctor or remove reference to bullying claims against Phakeng.

The office of the ombud was established in 2011 to demonstrate commitment to the just, fair and equitable treatment of each member of the university community – but nothing has been done about the bullying claims.