Doron Isaacs inquiry to start soon

Equal Education has confirmed the list of panellists heading the inquiry into sexual harassment allegations made against the organisation’s co-founder, Doron Isaacs.

In May, the Mail & Guardian reported on allegations of sexual harassment made against Isaacs, who then resigned as treasurer. He has not admitted to any wrongdoing and, since his resignation, has indicated that he was prepared to subject himself to an independent investigation.

On Thursday, the social justice organisation confirmed that the inquiry’s panellists would include retired high court judge Kathleen Satchwell, University of the Witwatersrand academic Malose Langa and law professor Rashida Manjoo.

Equal Education released the following statement: “The establishment of this inquiry will afford complainants an opportunity to voice any complaints they may have against Isaacs. The inquiry will look into issues relating to sexual harassment and/or similar misconduct. We want to acknowledge the courage of those who have already come forward.

“We reaffirm our commitment to confronting and addressing sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence… in a transparent manner,” the statement reads.

The organisation said it would ensure that fair and independent investigative processes are followed, and that “there is a sensitive and supportive environment for those who have been mistreated to come forward”.

The panel will convene in Cape Town at the offices of law firm Cheadle Thompson and Haysom in July and August.

Satchwell, a prominent human rights attorney in the 1990s, gave evidence before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the role of the legal system in contributing to the violations of human rights in South Africa under apartheid.

Langa’s research deals with the psychology of masculinity in post-apartheid South Africa. He was recently a member of the University of Cape Town’s Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Commission, which was set up to address unresolved tensions over transformation and disciplinary action against student protesters.

Manjoo, now based at UCT’s law faculty, has worked in various capacities addressing issues of gender-based violence and gender inequality. She is a member of the international advisory council of the Women’s Initiative for Gender Justice.

Equal Education’s national council formally resolved to establish an inquiry into the allegations of sexual harassment against Isaacs. It will also investigate a 2011 probe that cleared him of any wrongdoing.

The M&G also revealed that the 2011 investigation into sexual harassment allegations at Equal Education was conducted by close friends of Isaacs. Four members of that panel — Paula Ensor, Nathan Geffen, Sean Feinberg and Michelle Adler — who constituted the human resources subcommittee of the Equal Education board, were close to Isaacs at the time of the investigation.

Equal Education staff members were also concerned. In May, a letter was addressed to the chair of the organisation and signed by then interim national co-ordinator Leanne Jansen-Thomas and 12 other staff members. In it, staffers stated that they were aware of the 2011 probe into Isaacs, but had “serious concerns about how it was conducted”.

“We do not believe that the panel that investigated him was independent. We believe it ought to have been,” they wrote.

Although Geffen, Feinberg and Adler admitted to being friends with Isaacs, Ensor — who led the panel — said she only became close to Isaacs later. Responding to the M&G’s questions in this regard, they all said they did not believe there was a conflict of interest.

Equal Education has already embarked on two other probes. One is against former general secretary Tshepo Motsepe, who resigned in late April. The other has taken the form of a broad assessment into Equal Education’s record of dealing with mistreatment in the workplace, its policies and procedures with regard to sexual harassment and the organisation’s “norms and culture”.

Editorial: Power corrupts ― even in our respected NGOs

At the beginning of July, Equal Education elected new leaders at its third national congress. Noncedo Madubedube was elected the organisation’s general secretary and Tracey Malawana, her deputy.

Jansen-Thomas, who is currently Equal Education’s head of communications, said the organisation was not giving interviews on its congress yet. But in a statement released after the congress, the organisation said it had resolved to give the national council a mandate to ensure that Equal Education members are “educated and can engage on race, patriarchy, gender and sexual orientation [matters] both within our movement and in society generally”.

It also said constitutional amendments were adopted at the congress to ensure the independence of Equal Education’s governance structures and guarantee representation on the national council for high school volunteers involved in the organisation.

Equal Education has yet to consolidate the resolutions and amendments adopted, but said that these would build stronger accountability mechanisms for elected leaders and give members more power in determining the organisation’s direction. 

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.
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