Governance Failures at University of Cape Town

The University of Cape Town (UCT) has recently found itself at the center of a governance crisis. In a candid admission of failures, UCT’s council chairperson, Norman Arendse, acknowledged the shortcomings of the university’s previous council. This comes in the wake of a comprehensive report produced by an independent panel assigned to investigate governance issues within the institution.


The findings of this report have sent shockwaves through the academic community, as they reveal serious lapses in governance by former UCT Vice-Chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng and former council chairperson Babalwa Ngonyama. The implications of these findings extend beyond the walls of UCT, affecting the institution’s reputation, the trust of its stakeholders, and even its donors.


  1. The Background:

    To understand the gravity of the situation, it’s essential to grasp the background. In November 2022, UCT’s council approved the appointment of an independent panel, tasking them with investigating the circumstances surrounding the termination of Professor Lis Lange’s contract as Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Learning and Teaching. The abrupt departure of Lange raised suspicions, leading to rumors that Phakeng and Ngonyama had misled UCT’s executive and senate regarding the reasons behind Lange’s exit.

  2. The Independent Panel’s Findings:

    The independent panel’s 179-page report, released by UCT’s council, paints a disconcerting picture. It conclusively establishes that both Phakeng and Ngonyama “mendaciously misled” the university regarding Lange’s resignation. This finding underscores serious governance failures and a breach of trust by the university’s top leadership.

  3. Accountability and Responsibility:

    One of the report’s key recommendations is that Babalwa Ngonyama, a chartered accountant, should be reported to the relevant body for failing to perform her fiduciary duty at UCT. Accountability is a cornerstone of effective governance, and holding those responsible for these failures accountable is a crucial step toward rebuilding trust.

  4. An Unreserved Apology:

    UCT’s council chairperson, Norman Arendse, issued an unreserved apology to staff members, acknowledging the emotional trauma caused by the events. He expressed that had the council fulfilled its governance role as required at the time, many of these distressing incidents could have been prevented. This apology is not only an act of contrition but also a commitment to learning from past mistakes.

  5. The Path to Redemption:

    Recognizing that acknowledging the failures is only the first step, UCT’s council is actively considering the recommendations presented in the report. These recommendations provide a roadmap for addressing the governance deficiencies and ensuring that such incidents are not repeated in the future.

  6. Restoring Trust and Confidence:

    UCT’s leadership is well aware of the damage done to the university’s reputation, as well as the trust and confidence of its stakeholders and donors. It is essential for the institution to embark on a journey of reform, transparency, and accountability. This may include revisiting governance structures, implementing checks and balances, and fostering a culture of openness and responsibility.

  7. Rebuilding Relationships:

    The fallout from these governance failures has not only affected UCT internally but has also strained relationships with donors, stakeholders, and the wider public. Rebuilding these relationships will require consistent efforts and demonstrated commitment to rectifying past mistakes.

  8. A Turning Point:

    While the revelations from the independent panel’s report are undoubtedly distressing, they also present an opportunity for UCT to set a new course. It is a chance to demonstrate that the university is dedicated to upholding the highest standards of governance and ethics.


The acknowledgment of governance failures at the University of Cape Town is a crucial step toward healing and reform. The independent panel’s report has shed light on serious misconduct and lapses in accountability within the institution’s leadership. However, it also offers a path to redemption, a chance for UCT to rebuild trust and confidence and reaffirm its commitment to excellence in education and governance. As UCT’s leadership works to implement the report’s recommendations and rectify past mistakes, the hope is that this episode will serve as a turning point in the university’s history, leading to a stronger, more transparent, and accountable institution.

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