#WeBelieveThem: Feminist caucus calls for end to ‘culture of silence’ in NGO sector

In the wake of the allegations of sexual misconduct and institutional failure within Equal Education, the NGO Feminist Caucus has come out in solidarity with the women in the sector who have voiced their experiences of sexual assault.

On Monday, the caucus released a press statement — signed by activists from ActionAid South Africa, Positive Women’s Network and other non-governmental organisations — in support of those victimised within the social justice sector.

The statement comes after details of Equal Education’s institutional failure to address sexual harassment allegations emerged in an investigation published in the Mail & Guardian.

The M&G exposé found that the organisation’s co-founder Doron Isaacs has been repeatedly accused of sexual harassment, and senior figures in the organisation, including prominent activist Zackie Achmat, had been accused of covering his tracks.

Isaacs has since resigned as the organisation’s treasurer and Equal Education has said it is pursuing investigations into the allegations against him, as well as former general secretary Tshepo Motsepe and former head of national organising, Luyolo Mazwembe.

“We applaud the incredible bravery it took for those who have spoken out thus far, especially with the knowledge that we live in a world where those who call out abuse routinely face backlash, intimidation and derision from their abusers and their enablers,” said the statement.

In the statement, the caucus called for a default approach to accusations of sexual assault that places the burden of disproving the allegations on those accused of misconduct.

The feminist collective also noted “with grave concern” the victimisation of the M&G journalist who broke the story, condemning these attempts to maintain a “culture of silence” in the sector.

They added, while they endorse the ideals of due process in investigating these allegations, these procedures often end up ensuring the protection of predators and the punishment of survivors.“For us, the litmus test for the quality of our responses should be if victims/survivors feel that their interests are truly placed at the center of our ‘due processes’,” said the statement. “This should be located within a critical analysis of power relations, to ensure that our interventions are responsive to the dynamic and violent nature of patriarchy, and not reduced to mere tick box exercises to escape management and governance culpability.”

READ MORE: We are looking inward: Equal Education

The caucus also condemned the “punitive response” of the Western Cape department of education in the immediate termination of its partnerships with Equal Education.

In a statement released on May 22, Equal Education claimed Education MEC Debbie Schäfer sent a letter requesting that EE “not engage with any learners in the Western Cape” until a meeting between EE and her office is held.

READ MORE: W. Cape suspends Equal Education’s school operations after sexual harassment claims

Instead of the punitive approach — which has seen donors suspending funding with the social justice organisation — the caucus has called for a “partnership approach focused on lasting solutions to this systemic crisis”.

The caucus has demanded that organisations, their boards and donors put in place a transparent process to ensure victim-centered processes are followed to ensure that women are protected when speaking out against sexual harassment.

They also called for public apologies and appropriate reparations to be made to the women who may have left these organisations as a result of experiences of institutional failure.

Further, the caucus demanded that the names of those found to be guilty are made public “to prevent the continued circulation of predators in our sector”.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

Related stories

Time the state drilled down into water scarcity at schools

When the hard lockdowns kicked in it was discovered that 3 000 schools didn’t have an adequate water supply. But this is not a new problem

Open schools mean full tummies as feeding schemes resume

About four in five learners in the country’s poorest schools rely on the one meal they receive at school, but they weren’t able to get it for more than four months, during which child hunger increased because of the pandemic

Advocacy group takes department to court over school nutrition programme

Equal Education wants the court to get the basic education department to feed all learners who qualify for the programme, including those who are not back at school

Very few believe provincial education departments are suddenly efficient

Ordinary citizens have not forgotten that schools were failing before the virus crisis

Build infrastructure to support the fourth industrial revolution

Technology has the potential to solve many of the country’s social problems such as electricity production and the eradication of pit latrines

NGOs today: Competing for resources, power and agency

NGOs play a critical role in advancing social change and transformation, but their current funding model needs to be addressed for them to make a sustainable impact in South Africa

Subscribers only

The shame of 40 000 missing education certificates

Graduates are being left in the lurch by a higher education department that is simply unable to deliver the crucial certificates proving their qualifications - in some cases dating back to 1992

The living nightmare of environmental activists who protest mine expansion

Last week Fikile Ntshangase was gunned down as activists fight mining company Tendele’s expansions. Community members tell the M&G about the ‘kill lists’ and the dread they live with every day

More top stories

Fifteen witnesses for vice-chancellor probe

Sefako Makgatho University vice-chancellor Professor Peter Mbati had interdicted parliament last month from continuing with the inquiry

Constitutional Court ruling on restructuring dispute is good for employers

A judgment from the apex court empowers employers to change their workers’ contracts — without consultation

Audi Q8: Perfectly cool

The Audi Q8 is designed to be the king in the elite SUV class. But is it a victim of its own success?

KZN officials cash in on ‘danger pay for Covid-19’

Leadership failures at Umdoni local municipality in KwaZulu-Natal have caused a ‘very unhappy’ ANC PEC to fire the mayor and chief whip

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday