Letters to the Editor: May 25 to 31
Equal Education is a safe space
I am a 23-year-old woman, who was an Equal Education member from 2008 to 2013.
I was shocked when I read the Mail & Guardian article “NGO’s sexual harassment woes grow” about former treasurer of the organisation Doron Isaacs and sexual misconduct.
I have known Doron for 10 years and worked with him closely during my time in Equal Education.
It was great working with him. He was very supportive of both my academic and activist work. Doron became my role model and my mentor — he was a great leader. He has never given me any reason to be uncomfortable around him and I always felt safe.
I think all my friends at Equal Education enjoyed working with him; he was a mentor to a lot of us. We looked up to him because he was a positive influence and he was fun to be around. The way I saw it, he was loved by everyone.
During my time working at Equal Education, Doron worked closely with a lot of women. Over the years I have had contact with hundreds of women at Equal Education I have never heard any of them saying they felt intimidated or threatened by Doron or had bad experiences when working with him. I have never heard anyone saying they felt uncomfortable around him.
From my experience, I believe it is false to claim that Doron is “widely known” for negative sexual conduct, as claimed by an anonymous source in the M&G article — this is not true in my experience within Equal Education.
In 2008, when I joined the organisation, it was soon after it began working, when it was running the Fix our Schools campaign. This campaign was directed at my school and so I got to work closely with Doron. I was in grade eight at the time.
Then in 2009, I worked with him again as he would help me with research when I was writing a speech. He also helped me to prepare for press conferences. Sometimes my friend and I would work at his and his partner’s house together.
At some point in 2010, I stopped attending Equal Education. One day during that time Doron came to visit me and we had a fruitful conversation. He was very supportive. After talking to him I decided to go back to the organisation.
In 2011, I was elected to the Equal Education board where I also worked with Doron.
Doron has always supported me, even academically. When I was in matric, he and his partner assisted me with my studies in preparation for my exams.
Even after I stopped working at Equal Education in 2013, Doron continued to be supportive to me. We met last year when we were both in the Eastern Cape. We have not seen each other or been in contact since then. He is about the only person in the organisation who followed through on my life outside of Equal Education.
For me, as a young woman, Equal Education has always felt like a safe space. At the Equal Education office I felt safe from crime and the horrible things that happen in my community.
The organisation offered me a positive way to spend my time away from anything that could change the way I valued education, and nothing but education at the time.
Doron helped to build that environment.
I think in all parts of our lives there is a need for a platform to be created for women to express themselves without fear of being threatened. Women need to be empowered to speak out, including about sexual harassment.
I am not saying Doron is innocent of these allegations — I didn’t spend every day with him. I don’t know who he went out with.
But I am saying that Doron is a good and trustworthy person. My experience is that Doron has made many women at Equal Education feel valued, safe and appreciated and that they have enjoyed working with him. — Phathiswa Shushwana, Khayelitsha
Kagame should be in court
In 1994, the Rwandan Tutsi ethnic minority was the victim of genocide at the hands of Hutu extremists. Dozens of leading perpetrators were prosecuted and sentenced by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and by domestic courts in a number of countries; hundreds of thousands of others were tried in Rwanda’s neo-traditional gacaca jurisdictions.
It has been clear for many years that the Tutsi-dominated rebel force, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), also committed crimes against humanity and war crimes before, during and after the genocide. This was established by United Nations rapporteurs, nongovermental organisations, academics and journalists.
Although the ICTR was also competent to judge these crimes, not a single RPF suspect was prosecuted. This clear instance of victors’ justice came about, among other reasons, because the RPF — which took power in 1994 and still governs Rwanda today — was shielded by Washington and London.
Paul Kagame, RPF leader during and after the civil war and currently the country’s president, is considered a “visionary” by his friends Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. Despite ruling Rwanda by terror, he is credited with economic achievements and good bureaucratic governance. At the same time, his record of demo-cracy and human rights is appalling.
Although there were some indications to that effect, I have in the past resisted the notion of a “double genocide”, but must now revise that position. While the RPF’s previous crimes went unpunished, Canadian investigative journalist Judi Rever has in her book In Praise of Blood (Random House, 2018) convincingly demonstrated that Kagame’s movement has also committed genocide against the Hutus.
Based on hitherto secret files of the ICTR’s Office of the Prosecutor, other documents and numerous interviews with former RPF military and civilian officials, she shows in great and gruelling detail how Hutu women and men, children and elderly were slaughtered on a massive scale.
The intent to exterminate the Hutus as such, as defined by the genocide convention, is not in doubt. Although precise figures are unknown, the death toll may well run into the hundreds of thousands. Rever identifies 20 RPF leaders, among whom is Kagame himself, as perpetrators of these atrocities.
These convincing findings can no longer be ignored. Can Kagame continue to be honoured by the best universities across the world, receive red-carpet treatment wherever he goes, be a frequent guest at the Davos World Economic Forum and chair the African Union?
His place, and that of his lieutenants, is in a court of law facing justice for his crimes and receiving the punishment he deserves.
Most Rwandans, Hutus and Tutsis alike, are fully aware of this tragic history. Unless the truth is told, the country will not find the reconciliation it so badly needs. — Filip Reyntjens, emeritus professor of law and politics, University of Antwerp