UCT accused of protecting professor caught with drugs and accused of burning office

The University of Cape Town has been accused of protecting Associate Professor Leon Holtzhausen despite proof and CCTV footage showing that he started the fire in his office, to conceal the evidence implicating him as a drug abuser. Picture: Supplied

The University of Cape Town has been accused of protecting Associate Professor Leon Holtzhausen despite proof and CCTV footage showing that he started the fire in his office, to conceal the evidence implicating him as a drug abuser. Picture: Supplied

Published Apr 7, 2024


The University of Cape Town (UCT) has been accused of protecting and promoting an employee who was allegedly caught red-handed using drugs, after he had burnt an office in the Robert Leslie Social Science building.

The incident happened in 2018, and it has been alleged that Associate Professor Leon Holtzhausen, who is allegedly a drug user, was responsible for the fire.

A whistle-blower and former head of department (HOD) in the Department of Social Development, Professor Ndangwa Noyoo, said the university promoted Holtzhausen to his position despite the evidence provided.

Noyoo said this was after he reported the matter and provided a file containing proof of the incident, with notes and pictures of the burnt office, and CCTV footage to the senior officials and the Human Resource Department.

Holtzhausen was appointed as HOD after Professor Shose Kessi was appointed dean of the Faculty of Humanities in 2019.

“This came to pass after Kessi and the individual who was implicated in the said arson and his supporters hounded me from headship. Kessi was supported in this endeavour by the former deputy vice-chancellor Professor Lis Lange,” Noyoo said.

Noyoo further said that UCT conducted an investigation into the incident but buried the report for more than six years.

He also accused the university of creating jobs for favourite underlings and bypassing deserving individuals who applied. UCT also awarded high marks to undeserving students and promoted them to higher levels, he said.

Noyoo said after leaving the institution he approached the office of the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, and reported the alleged malpractices at UCT.

UTC spokesperson Elijah Moholola on Thursday said UCT was yet to give feedback or report from the department. He said the university was contacted by the department on the matter and all relevant information was shared.

Moholola further said that the university conducted two investigations on the scene. He said was internal by UCT’s Campus Protection Services (CPS) and was an external investigation, and both found no conclusive evidence and recommend no action against the Holtzhausen.

“The appointment of any HOD is based on a fair and transparent process in accordance with the university's applicable policies. The extensive appointment process seeks to appoint someone who has a mix of scholarly and leadership strengths, and general management capacity required to develop a well-functioning academic unit; and has the support of the department. The HoD in question would have met these criteria when he was appointed,” Moholola said.

Higher Education spokesperson Veli Mbele said questions were forwarded to the department’s university branch for a reply.

In his report conducted in December 2018, UCT head of the investigation, Warren Pekeur, did not come up with clear and concrete findings. He also did not make recommendations.

However, Pekeur admitted that the footage showed Holtzhausen carrying a box which was identified and confirmed by the Campus Protection Services (CPS) as the box that was in his office when they entered the office to extinguish the fire.

He also admitted that the pictures of the office showed that someone was using or smoking a hookah pipe in the office. CPS officials confirmed that when they entered the office, there was a box on the table and on their return to the office, they found the box missing.

An investigation by the Department of Higher Education found that although Pekeur seems somewhat inconsequential as he did not come up with clear and concrete findings or make any specific recommendations, he did implicate and support the allegations levelled against Holtzhausen as a drug abuser and also as someone responsible for starting the fire to conceal the evidence implicating him from being discovered.

The department said the fact that later on that day, Holtzhausen was identified by Noyoo, Pekeur, Dr Chance Chagunda, who was the health and safety officer, on the surveillance footage carrying the box containing all the evidence which upon being identified earlier and had subsequently disappeared, implicates and supports the allegations levelled against Holtzhausen.

The department also found that all information and concerns shared by other staff members, including Noyoo and other colleagues who had nothing against Holtzhausen, about his suspected drug abuse, seriously implicated and supported the allegations levelled against him as a drug abuser.

The department also found that UCT did not only demonstrate reluctance but also a non-committal as well as an insouciant attitude when investigating the allegations against Holtzhausen.

The report stated that efforts to address concerns surrounding the allegations were short of shambolism and a cover-up.

“It is the finding of this investigation that and this to the same degree, former head of department: Social Development at UCT; Professor Noyoo and anyone else who has ever come forward to raise concerns about Associate Professor Holtzhausen’s use or abuse of drugs on campus, have been subjected to what in terms of conditions of employment, and as explained in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act of 1997, (Act No. 75 of 1997), the Labour Relations Act 1995, (Act No.66 of 1995), last but not least the Protected Disclosure Act, to a treatment that amounts to occupation detriment. The result was either non-renewal of the contract, the termination of employment or resignation as in the case of Prof Noyoo.

“The department said UCT committed itself to having a safe environment for staff and also developed and put in place the substance abuse policy. But when it comes to suspected misconduct involving certain powerful individuals or levels within the organisation, the university does not seem to either apply such measures fairly. The Higher Education said this speaks volumes about UCT’s commitment to assisting its staff.”

The department added that Holtzhausen's promotion to the position of Noyoo, who initiated the investigation into allegations, served to strengthen allegations of him being the “James Bond of the institution”.

It was recommended that the university reopen the investigation to look into the manner in which the entire debacle involving allegations of Holtzhausen’s drug abusive behaviour was handled by the senior management with organisation structure.

The Department of Higher Education also said UCT should reopen the investigation into the causes of the fire and Holtzhausen’s culpability in it.

“It is recommended that the vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town commissions an inquiry into the allegations of “occupational detriment” at the university, particularly the renewal of the contracts, the termination of employment or resignations of those who have raised concerns about Associate Professor Holtzhausen’s substance abuse, as in the case of Prof Noyoo,” the department said, adding the university should also institute an inquiry to look into the manner in which Holtzhausen was promoted after being accused of such unethical conduct and behaviour.

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