The University of Cape Town (UCT) has refused to name the individuals behind smear emails directed at the university’s deputy vice-chancellor for research and internationalisation, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng. This was in response to Wits Vuvuzela’s queries following a statement released by the university at the weekend. Phakeng is a former president of Wits Convocation.
“I write this in my capacity as a colleague and close team member of Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, who has recently been denigrated and insulted in a couple of private emails which have nevertheless been quite widely circulated and are therefore in effect in the public domain,” wrote UCT’s Vice Chancellor Max Price in the statement.
“I have previously communicated to the authors that I believe an apology to Professor Phakeng and all the addressees is needed,” Price said.
Elijah Moholola, head of the media liaison office at UCT, told Wits Vuvuzela that it was not appropriate for the university to reveal the identities of the senders. “It is not UCT’s interest to identify the senders. UCT’s interest was to address the issue, not the individuals involved,” he said.
“The senders are not UCT staff members. UCT can only take disciplinary action in matters involving staff and students,” Moholola added.
One of the emails reads, “I believe she is not mathematically qualified at all… She has a “PhD in education of mathematics”. It might justify investigating.”
Phakeng wouldn’t disclose the identities of the authors either, saying that would be playing into their hands. “I am sure they would like the situation to be that messy so that the public loses sight of the wrong they have done.”
All she was prepared to say was that the emails were distributed by “two elderly UCT alumni” to about 40 individuals including the university council members and former UCT vice and deputy vice-chancellors.
Phakeng said she was disappointed that the individuals to whom the emails were sent had not come out to condemn the smear campaign against her. “Why is it that many of these people did not stop these two men? The idea that my qualifications may be fraudulent suggests that UCT’s systems are not working, otherwise how would someone with dodgy academic credentials be appointed to such an important position?”
Phakeng joined UCT last year from the University of South Africa (Unisa), where she was vice-principal for research and innovation.
In a January 2016 statement announcing her appointment, Price wrote this about Phakeng: “A leading mathematics educator and researcher, she has published 57 peer-reviewed research publications, edited five academic volumes and published six research reports with over 1 000 citations. She is a B2 NRF-rated scientist, reflecting her considerable local and international recognition. She has been invited to deliver more than 30 keynote or plenary talks at international conferences and as visiting professor in universities around the world.”
Phakeng told Wits Vuvuzela that, “My view is that the men should be persuaded to offer a public apology because they have wronged not just myself but also the university. Our university is very polarised and this matter is making the situation worse.”
At the time of Wits Vuvuzela going to press, Professor Karin Brodie, the head of the School of Education, said she was not ready to comment as the university was in the process of preparing an official statement.
Wits Vuvuzela, ‘Fab Academic’ Phakeng resigns as president of Wits Convocation, October 12, 2016
Wits Vuvuzela, QnA with “Fab Academic” Mamokgethi Phakeng, August 21, 2017