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Bono’s charity admits to ‘toxic’ bullying at South Africa office

The ONE Campaign – the anti-corruption charity fronted by U2 lead singer Bono – is embroiled in a major bullying scandal, centred on its Johannesburg office.

The organisation has been threatened with legal action by former staff members, who claim that they were “treated worse than dogs”, and for years subjected to ridicule and belittling behaviour.

According to an investigation by Ian Birrell, published in the Mail on Sunday, one former manager described the atmosphere in the South Africa office as “’toxic, unprofessional and dominated by fear, intimidation and bullying”.

The ONE Campaign’s senior London-based management, as well as Bono himself, are accused of turning a blind eye to these accusations until they became public. Bono has now publicly apologised.

“We are all deeply sorry. I hate bullying, can’t stand it. The poorest people in the poorest places being bullied by their circumstance is the reason we set up ONE. So to discover last November that there were serious and multiple allegations of bullying in our office in Johannesburg left me and the ONE board reeling and furious. You question the whole reason you’re doing this,” said Bono.

He added: “My team and I heard concerns about low morale and poor management in this office but nothing along the lines of what emerged recently. I was assured that those concerns were being dealt with – clearly, they were not.”

In addition to the bullying, Birrell’s investigation claims that the ONE Campaign did not pay taxes in South Africa – despite campaigning strongly against tax evasion – and that foreign staff were employed on tourist visas.

It is unclear whether the ONE Campaign is formally registered as an non-profit organisation or a non-profit company in South Africa. It does not appear on searches of either the companies database or the the database of the department of social development.

Sipho Moyo, the charity’s former Africa executive director and head of the South Africa office, has been singled out for criticism by aggrieved staff. Among a litany of disturbing incidents, they claim she:

  • Demoted a married, female staff member after she refused to sleep with a Tanzanian MP
  • Invited staff to parties at her house, only to use them as waiters and waitresses
  • Pressured a worker to give her a foot massage

Moyo, who left to become chief of staff to Akinwumi Adesina, the president of the African Development Bank, strongly denies all these allegations. However, she did confirm to the Mail on Sunday that the ONE Campaign did not pay tax on employees’ salaries in South Africa, saying that this decision was taken in Washington DC.

The ONE Campaign was set up in 2004. It is a campaigning and advocacy organisation that uses the power of celebrity – aside from Bono, high-profile supporters include Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks and George Clooney – to fight poverty and corruption.

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Simon Allison
Simon Allison
Simon Allison is the Africa editor of the Mail & Guardian, and the founding editor-in-chief of The Continent. He is a 2021 Young Africa Leadership Initiative fellow.

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