/ 15 October 2008

UCT deputy faces gun over Hlophe

Deputy registrar and legal adviser Paul Ngobeni is facing university disciplinary action for his support of Cape Judge President John Hlophe.

University of Cape Town (UCT) deputy registrar and legal adviser Paul Ngobeni, who has consistently gone in to bat for embattled Cape Judge President John Hlophe and ANC president Jacob Zuma, is facing university disciplinary action.

The US-trained lawyer told the Mail & Guardian last week that he faces a disciplinary inquiry by UCT management and legal academics because of his support for Hlophe.

This is not the first time Ngobeni has been on the carpet.

He first entered the controversy surrounding Hlophe at the height of the Oasis saga when a complaint was laid with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) accusing the judge president of improperly accepting a retainer from Oasis and allowing the company to sue another judge, Siraj Desai, for defamation.

Last October, after the Oasis saga had already raised a ruckus in the legal community, with some lawyers calling for Hlophe’s head, Ngobeni penned an opinion piece in the Cape Times titled ”Why Hlophe should remain as judge president”.

In a dossier which he sent to the M&G last week he referred to the Oasis matter, saying that the JSC investigation ”was clearly a matter of national interest; it sparked lively debate in legal circles and even caused deep divisions along racial lines within the legal profession”.

Ngobeni said that a month later his employment status was put on the agenda of an executive committee meeting that included academics from the law faculty, as a confidential item.

He said UCT registrar and Ngobeni’s boss, Hugh Amoore, told the meeting that Ngobeni’s ”relationship with members of the law faculty was likely to be difficult as a result of the position he had taken” in the Cape Times opinion piece.

”It is puzzling why no one at the exco meeting, including self-declared civil rights lawyers and transformation advocates, queried the basis for and legitimacy of the registrar’s assertion,” said Ngobeni.

He said that without his knowledge, UCT management asked an independent attorney, Barney Jordaan, to conduct an inquiry into his ”public statements” on the Hlophe controversy in December last year.

Jordaan, said Ngobeni, later found in his favour, ruling that ”there does not appear to be any basis for action against Mr Ngobeni.

”His public utterances about the Hlophe matter, expressed in his private capacity, were not directed at his employer.”

”Nor were they of such a nature that one can say that they harmed the good name and reputation of the university.”

Ngobeni said the report was not given to him and was ”carefully hidden. UCT held off informing the public about the conclusion in my favour,” he said.

Last week Jordaan confirmed this aspect of his ruling to the M&G. However, he said he had found against Ngobeni on a complaint relating to his relationship with ”his immediate superior” — Amoore.

He refused to elaborate.

Ngobeni denied this, saying Jordaan’s finding had merely alluded to his uneasy relationship with Amoore.

The latest disciplinary action is related to an article Ngobeni wrote in June this year in Business Day about Hlophe’s dispute with the judges of the Constitutional Court over allegations that he sought to influence two of them to find in favour of Zuma.

A few days later, he said, he received a notice of a disciplinary inquiry from the university management.

Ngobeni remains defiant. In an opinion piece he sent the M&G last week, entitled ”Hlophe Verdict: are the Constitutional Court judges on a fast track towards impeachment?”, he argues that ”for most objective observers the series of actions by the Constitutional Court judges against Judge President John Hlophe had all the hallmarks of an orchestrated lynching”.

The M&G sent a list of questions to UCT spokesperson Gerda Kruger on the discipinary action against Ngobeni and received a statement saying: ”The University of Cape Town’s internal disciplinary processes are confidential matters. We are therefore not able to give comment on the questions posed”.

Click here to read Ngobeni’s opinion piece on the M&G Online


M&G Online