Mangcu is the latest to leave Wits

The University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) has lost another influential and experienced black intellectual to the University of Johannesburg (UJ).

Political commentator Xolela Mangcu agreed to move to UJ in June, the Mail & Guardian has learned. His is the latest in a string of high-profile departures by Wits’s black academic and non-academic staff.

Others who have left include political scientist David Monyae (who left for the Development Bank of South Africa) and professors Mamokgethi Setati (Unisa), Thokozile Mayekiso (Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University) and Rok Ajulu (Unisa). Another political scientist, Chris Landsberg, also left, taking a job at UJ.

Mangcu said his move was prompted by Wits’s hesitation in converting his visiting professorship into a permanent job. “I was hoping that Wits would give me a job as I have been there on a visiting basis. So, the UJ offered me a job and I took it.”

Mangcu headed Wits’s “platform for public deliberation”, a series of public lectures and round-table discussions. Last week he confirmed that he would take the forum with him to UJ.

While Mangcu said he left for a permanent post, tensions over race featured prominently in another defection from Wits to UJ.

The resignation last year of Professor Sakhela Buhlungu sparked an internal commission of inquiry appointed by Wits vice-chancellor Loyiso Nongxa. The handling of the inquiry angered many black Wits staffers, the M&G was told.

The inquiry considered Buhlungu’s reasons for resigning, which included allegations of racism, insubordination and favouritism in the sociology department.

Buhlungu’s submission cited the failure of the university to deal with his complaints about the performance of humanities school Professor Eric Worby and senior lecturer Paul Germond.

“They have protected him [Germond] from the beginning to the very end. He had been granted sabbatical on several occasions and has been doing his PhD [for more than 10 years],” Buhlungu told the M&G.

In March, Wits finalised the inquiry’s report but declined to release it to department staff. Buhlungu was told in an email message that access to the report was dependent on his signing a confidentiality agreement.

“I refused to sign it. It’s history. I don’t care any more; these people have flipped the tables around. They have turned me into the bad guy,” Buhlungu said.

Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel told the M&G in April the inquiry was intended to establish the facts and to offer guidance to the vice-chancellor on how to best deal with Buhlungu’s matter. “The report contains confidential information about several staff members and is not and was never intended to be a public document.”

She said that Nongxa strongly believed that in this case he has an obligation to balance the right of access to information against the right to privacy of individuals.

“Professor Nongxa has also taken it upon himself to share the key findings and recommendations of the report with members of the school of social sciences as this matter has had an impact on staff within the school,” she said.

The Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI), however, said the confidentiality agreement effectively amounted to a gag, which violated Buhlungu’s right to freedom of expression.

FXI executive director Jane Duncan said this was “particularly inappropriate in a situation where [Buhlungu] has a material interest in the outcome of the inquiry, which means that he should have a right to do with the report as he sees fit. The scope of the gag does not stop there, as it also extends to all secret knowledge, the university has an interest in being kept confidential.”

In an interview with the M&G in January, Nongxa denied that there was an “exodus” of black intellectuals from the university. He said black staff members normally left in search of greener pastures.

An associate professor from Wits’s school of social sciences, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Wits claims to be politically progressive but is in fact institutionally conservative. He also pointed to the lack of real transformation at the university. “The black staff are brought in as figureheads but most of the decision-making remains in the hands of senior staff who are white. If you look at heads of departments they are mostly white.”

On Thursday the university said Mangcu’s resignation could not be compared with Buhlungu’s because he [Mangcu] was not an employee of the university.

Additional reporting by Mandy Rossouw

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