/ 12 February 2021

UCT to undo racial appointments through its new employment policy

Uct Academics Cry Foul Over Dean’s Appointment Process
The University of Cape Town leads the continent on the rankings. (Mike Hutchings/Reuters)

The University of Cape Town (UCT) has amended its policy on Employment Equity as of this week. It says it believes that the new policy will go a long way towards addressing some of the legacies of the past when it comes to employing staff. 

The policy came into effect on 1 February after it was approved by the highest decision-making body of the institution, it’s council. 

UCT deputy vice-chancellor for transformation, Professor Loretta Feris, said that the amended policy will also help the university to move forward in achieving its employment equity goals and address some of its former barriers. 

In its annual Employment Equity Report to the department of employment and labour, which covered the period between 1 July to 30 June 2020, the university cited some of its barriers to achieving employment equity as: corporate culture, under-representation of designated groups (these include, among others, black people, people living with disability and women), succession and experience planning, promotions, training and development as well as remuneration and benefits. 

In that same report, the university showed that white and coloured people occupied most senior management positions. There is only one African person in senior management at UCT, according to the report. Out of the 7 009 employed at the university, African people mainly occupied semi-skilled and unskilled positions, followed by coloured people. 

The report also showed that out of 96 employees of the university living with disability there were none in senior management or top management. Instead, the majority of people living with disability were found in such positions as junior managers, supervisors, foremen or in junior academic positions. 

The university says the policy will not be “a tick-box compliance exercise” but that it is there to “undo the skewed racial profile of UCT’s staff composition left behind by the discriminatory racial policies of the past”.

“Our EE policy is unequivocal in its stance on anti-racism, non-sexism and any other forms of unfair discrimination. Integral to this policy is not only compliance but also commitment to redress, inclusivity and diversity. At the heart of our policy is transformation, of which decolonisation is a central tenet,” reads the document. 

The policy says that more attention will be given to “progressively address under-representation of designated groups and the university shall not adopt any employment policy or practice that will establish unfair barriers to the prospective or continued employment or advancement of people who are not from designated groups”.

Preference will also be given to suitably qualified candidates who are members of the designated groups until their representation in all occupational levels has reached the desired and long-term goals. 

Through the policy, the university says it will also promote equal opportunity in the workplace by eliminating unfair discrimination in any of its employment policies and practices. This includes pay disparities and unfair discrimination based on — among others — sex, race, gender, political opinon and sexual orienation. It also adds that victimisation and harassment of any kind will not be tolerated and that such conduct will lead to a disciplinary action. 

As per the policy, employees belonging to the designated group will be prioritised to receive learning and development. 

Learning from past mistakes

The amended employment equity policy by UCT comes at a time when the institution has been making news about the ombudsman report compiled by former ombudsman Zetu Makamandela-Mguqulwa. 

In the report, Makamandela-Mguqulwa said that 37 academics complained about vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng’s conduct and that “people felt bullied, silenced, undermined, rebuked and/ or treated unfairly”. Phakeng denied the allegations levelled against her with the council, saying that the issues raised in the report would be addressed. 

Aside from the complaints about Phakeng, the ombudsman’s report also said that it had received complaints related to compensation and benefits, career progression and development and the selection committees. The report said that there were complaints about the manner in which the committees are run, with Makamandela-Mguqulwa recommending that they follow the processes of the university already in place. 

“The application of the university’s Employment Equity Policy has sometimes been problematic, leading to internal and external scrutiny. Chairpersons of these committees must familiarise themselves with the rules and not make them up as they go. Those whose fate is decided in these processes do not feel as if they have been treated with dignity. This is contrary to the university values. I strongly urge the UCT Human Resources Department to provide proper guidance and protect the recruitment policies of the university and their legitimacy,” wrote Makamandela-Mguqulwa. 

Last year, the Mail & Guardian reported that there was unhappiness among some academics in the humanities faculty, after a candidate for the position of dean of humanities was allegedly overlooked, though the selection committee had identified her as appointable and as the best candidate for the job. 

In letters that the group of academics wrote to the selection committee and the humanities faculties they raised concerns about the problematic way in which the process was handled. They also questioned how candidates who did not meet the criteria of the job ended up being shortlisted. The group raised concerns that a black foreign woman was shortlisted for the job although the advert had said it was looking at attracting a black South African candidate. The group of academics accused the university of failing to follow the employment equity policies strictly. 

The amended policy says that selection committee chairpersons will be required to adhere to the compliance of the policy and human resources practices of the institution; and that recruitment and selection processes will be done in a fair and open manner in line with UCT’s values and principles.