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Picture: SHELLY CHRISTIANS
Picture: SHELLY CHRISTIANS

Amid an information war still raging at the University of Cape Town, outgoing vice-chancellor Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng has been placed on leave “with immediate effect”.

Her role officially ends on March 3, but internal communications reveal an ongoing struggle — between her and the council headed by Babalwa Ngonyama — over the lasting narrative that frames her exit from the university.

Earlier this week, Phakeng sent a message on an internal platform confirming that as of March 3 she would be “standing down as vice-chancellor”.

She said she had first turned down a settlement for standing down but had “come to realise that [her] position is now untenable”, which is why, “with reluctance, [she] had agreed to early retirement”.

The sum she will receive is pegged at about R12m.

The day after the outgoing vice-chancellor’s letter, Ngonyama on Tuesday sent a message, also on an internal platform, saying: “As you know, Prof Phakeng will retire early from the position of vice-chancellor, and this will take effect as from the end of Friday, March 3. In order to give effect to the necessary transition arrangements, please note that Prof Phakeng will be on leave with immediate effect.”

Phakeng had also said in her message earlier this week that she was “pleased” the independent investigation was continuing, but would have preferred “the hearings to be public” so the media could report on facts instead of “innuendos” and “fabrications”.

She lashed out at Ngonyama, saying: “In her confidential message to the university, the chair of council reports that we have failed to agree on a mutually acceptable statement” after the special council meeting last week where the settlement was agreed upon.

This, according to Phakeng, is because the chair “refuses to acknowledge publicly that no disciplinary charges have been laid against me”.

Deputy vice-chancellor Sue Harrison, as of Tuesday, was asked to act as vice-chancellor until an interim replacement could be appointed while longer-term plans are put in motion.

The Sunday Times reported at the weekend that the council had received a legal opinion that there was a “strong” prima facie case against Phakeng. However, the evidence was untested and could have plunged the institution into a protracted and messy legal battle that could end up in the Constitutional Court.

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