University of Cape Town (UCT) Professor Elelwani Ramugondo is taking the university to court for hiring a “less qualified” white academic as its deputy vice-chancellor for teaching and learning.
Joining her in court is the university’s Black Academic Caucus (BAC), which claims the institution flouted the rules when appointing Professor Lis Lange in December.
Ramugondo and Lange vied for the position after three other candidates did not make the cut.
Ramugondo, a full professor, lost out to Lange, an associate professor and former University of the Free State vice-rector for academics.
Ramugondo told City Press on Friday she was overlooked because of institutional racism at UCT.
“This case should not come as a surprise given that the UCT executive themselves have conceded that UCT needs to seriously address transformation.
"Why else would they agree that the institutional reconciliation and transformation commission be instituted?
“Institutional racism is a blind spot. Racists within an organisation that is experienced as racist by those who are marginalised, are unable to recognise the problem themselves.
“The diagnosis must be done by an independent body and a court of law is best placed to do this. It is for this reason that I would like for this appointment process to be placed under legal scrutiny.”
Ramugondo said she was going to court reluctantly after first trying “to engage all appropriate internal structures to resolve the issues”.
“What has become clear to me after all these efforts is that my understan-ding of what transform-ation entails and implies at UCT is not necessarily shared by everyone. Hence it has become necessary to consider engaging a third party.”
Ramugondo has worked at UCT since 1998.
“I know many causalities to UCT’s institutional racism. I have chosen to stay because I believe that if we confront the problem honestly at UCT, which is a public university that is held in very high regard, it will bode well for all South Africans.
"I am doing this because it is important for the country, particularly our youth, because our young people must see a future for themselves as students and academics at UCT, regardless of their race.”
She said she had been “told directly by some in high positions at UCT that I should worry about my future in academia, and the role tackling UCT head-on would play in that”.
“I have been warned about being labelled a troublemaker and the consequences that come with that for future opportunities.”
Ramugondo said she met the requirements for the post and claimed vice-chancellor Max Price tried to mislead the public in radio interviews when he said she did not have management and administrative experience.
She argues she has this after heading UCT’s occupational therapy division for three years.
UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said it would be “unfortunate” for Ramugondo to take the university to court.
“But if the unsuccessful candidate believes there were irregularities with the process, it is within their rights to seek legal recourse.”
Moholola said the university was unaware that Ramugondo was threatened, which was a “worrying and serious claim”, and that she should lay a complaint with university structures or police.
Moholola said the university is continuing to address institutional racism and has made transformation one of its strategic goals.
Moholola would not comment on Ramugondo’s claims that Price tried to mislead the public.
“The unsuccessful candidate was found to not be appointable by the selection committee when assessed against the set criteria,” he said.
The BAC picketed against Lange’s appointment on Thursday.
It said Ramugondo met all the requirements, was Price’s special adviser during the #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall protests and was co-chair of the curriculum change working group and chair of the academic freedom committee.
The BAC claimed Lange did not meet the requirements, which Price rejected in a statement on Wednesday.
Price: “Note that there is no specified requirement that the applicant should be eligible for a full professorship at UCT.
"The BAC’s claim is false: Associate professor Lange met all the criteria.”