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Convocation head resigns after white professor appointed as acting head of transformation at UCT

A general view of the University of Cape Town on January 21, 2020 in Cape Town.

A general view of the University of Cape Town on January 21, 2020 in Cape Town.

Gallo Images/Jacques Stander

  • The head of convocation at UCT has stepped down citing concerns over the sudden departure of deputy vice chancellor Professor Loretta Feris. 
  • Eddy Maloka said he wondered if he was at the right place after Feris was replaced by a white professor.  
  • Vice chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said Feris had not wanted a second term and had asked for, and was granted, a sabbatical. 

The head of convocation at the University of Cape Town (UCT), Eddy Maloka, has stepped down over the sudden departure of the executive head of transformation, deputy vice chancellor Professor Loretta Feris, and the appointment of a white professor in an acting capacity.  

“They left me wondering whether I am at the right place – at UCT of the year 2021; and whether I still have any value to add to the university and its convocation,” Maloka wrote to the council’s chairperson, Babalwa Ngonyama, announcing his resignation. 

“In my attempt to meditate over what transpired, I have not been able to explain to myself how a black female deputy vice chancellor, who was the executive head of transformation efforts at UCT, came to vacate her post so unceremoniously, and why when her replacement is being sought, we opted for a retired white male when the university has so much talent for this portfolio in its midst.” 

Maloka said although he respected Professor Martin Hall, he felt that the portfolio of deputy vice chancellor: transformation should be occupied in terms of the “flames” of the Fees Must Fall movement that brought it into existence. 

Fees Must Fall protests swept across South Africa’s universities from 2015, with students and activists demanding changes to funding models that excluded the poor, a decolonised education, and the removal of obstacles to access to higher education most keenly felt by black students. 

Feris was appointed in January 2017. Her departure, and replacement by Hall in an acting capacity, has caused anger in some quarters, including the Black Academic Caucus which felt “recycling” retirees went against the grain of the purpose of the portfolio.

UCT spokesperson Elijah Mohololo said the council would meet shortly to discuss the issues raised by Hall’s appointment as acting vice chancellor for transformation.  

“The University of Cape Town has noted the resignation of the president of convocation, Mr Eddy Maloka, with sadness and regret,” added Moholola. 

“We have also noted the reasons given for tendering his resignation.  

“UCT has multiple stakeholders that have raised their opinions related to the appointment of the acting deputy vice chancellor: transformation. The UCT council is giving the matter the attention needed and will meet shortly to discuss the many issues raised regarding this matter.” 

In a statement posted online on Tuesday, vice chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said Feris, “was neither ‘fired’ nor ‘axed’ as alleged”. 

Phakeng said her term was set to end on 31 December 2021, but she did not seek a second five-year term of office.  

Feris also asked for, and was granted, a sabbatical until the end of January 2022.  

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Phakeng said in finding a candidate to act in the position, no applications were requested or sought from candidates.  

The vice chancellor, as line manager, makes a confidential approach to a possible candidate and the decision over the appointment rests with the council after a nomination by the vice chancellor.  

“It is deeply problematic to suggest that the ability of members to serve the university for a limited acting period can only be on the basis of their race, age and gender. It is a skewed and incorrect view of transformation.”  

Phakeng said Hall, in previous tenure anchored employment equity at UCT, was also responsible for – among others – the setting up of the university’s transformation office and the formation of transformation committees at the institution.  

“One of the criticisms he faced during his tenure was, that he gravitated more towards radical transformation – underscoring his commitment to transformation.”

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