August 24, 2021

University of Cape Town Vindicates Former Ombuds

Six months after being ousted from her job as UCT's founding Ombud, Zetu Makamandela-Mguqulwa, CO-OP, has been entirely exonerated of the spurious complaints against her. In July 2020, Makamandela-Mguqulwa's annual report publicly revealed widespread complaints of bullying by the University's Vice Chancellor. The matter quickly escalated when the VC initiated disciplinary charges and threatened litigation. The conflict drew significant press coverage in the legislative capital of South Africa and the university ultimately let Makamandela-Mguqulwa's contract expire. Now, the University of Cape Town has dropped its investigation and paid Makamandela-Mguqulwa her performance bonus. Moreover, UCT has adopted an inti-bullying policy.

South Africa's Independent has more details:
Although no longer at the university, the adoption of the [anti-bullying] policy is a major victory for former Ombud Zetu Makamandela-Mguqulwa, whose decade at UCT ended on December 31 as the university controversially ran down the clock on her term without addressing 37 complaints of bullying by academics and staff against the vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng in her 2019 Ombud report.

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The university also muzzled the Ombud via a cooked-up disciplinary process which lapsed without addressing any of the frivolous charges put to her in September 2020.

In March Makamandela-Mguqulwa wrote to the university registrar Royston Pillay, demanding the outcome of her performance appraisal and wanting to know what had happened to the disciplinary process against her.

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She told [UCT Registrar, Royston] Pillay that although UCT has attempted to cast doubt on her capabilities as Ombud, since leaving the university she had received enormous acknowledgement from colleagues in the Ombud sector, both within the country and internationally. “Given all that has happened, 2020 saw my name recorded publicly as one of three Ombuds who displayed courage in the face of value conflicts.”

In correspondence to the former Ombud on June 30, Pillay said he had been advised and authorised to convey to her that for the performance review cycle effective to mid-2020, while she was still in the employ of UCT, an assessment of her performance was confirmed at the level of E1. Makamandela-Mguqulwa was given a performance bonus.
Meanwhile, UCT's interim Ombud, Ihron Rensburg, is drafting terms of reference for the Ombud and a search for a permanent appointment is expected. Makamandela-Mguqulwa has been consulting with other universities that are interesting in the Ombuds role. (SA Independent.)

1 comment:

  1. It should be no surprise that certain persons, whose wrongdoing gets exposed when people within an organization bring concerns to an ombuds, will attempt to retaliate against the ombuds. We should not be surprised when miscreants level all manner of scurrilous allegations against effective ombuds.

    Ombuds need SERIOUS and EFFECTIVE protections against such targeting; however, I am not persuaded that most ombuds have such protections, even if the words on their charter assert that they do.

    In the end, Zetu was exonerated. At what cost? When is winning simply a Pyrrhic victory. Who amongst us wants to achieve just such a victory?

    If you do not believe this could happen to you, you are probably ignoring reality.