‘Senior SABC managers and HR covered up sexual harassment’ – report

Human resources officials and senior managers collude to cover up cases of sexual harassment at the SABC.

This is according to the findings made by the broadcaster’s commission of inquiry into sexual harassment.

At a media briefing on Tuesday, the commission’s chairperson, social worker and gender activist Barbara Watson, said that most of the cases brought to the commission had been reported to the SABC — but were dealt with “sloppily”.

Watson said that, though the SABC has a relatively strong sexual harassment policy, the commission found that most cases were dealt with informally.

“Human resources and most senior managers demonstrated a serious lack of knowledge and understanding of human rights statutes, gender relations and issues of power relations between men and women,” the inquiry found.

“In the process, they have been complicit in the violation of the rights of complainants. Complainants want redress in the form of a hearing to confront the alleged perpetrators.”

The inquiry was set up in June following recommendations by a parliamentary ad hoc committee to deal with various forms of unlawful conduct at the public broadcaster.

The commission of inquiry reviewed 10 cases lodged directly by victims and seven by whistleblowers. During the course of the probe 25 SABC officials and 11 alleged perpetrators were interviewed.

The inquiry was set up parallel to another probe into editorial interference at the SABC. The findings of the commission of inquiry into editorial interference are yet to be announced.

Following this announcement of the inquiry, all staff members, independent contractors, suppliers and members of the public were asked to report incidents of sexual harassment.

Watson noted that the commission was limited insofar as it did not have the powers to subpoena alleged perpetrators. Instead, the commission had to rely on the accused to respond to its requests to answer to the allegations.

Former chairperson of the the Commission for Gender Equality Mfanozelwe Shozi said many of those asked to answer to allegations levelled against them were “arrogant”. Some pulled out their rosaries and said they are men of God, while others insisted they were married, Shozi and Watson said.

Shozi recounted six cases reviewed by the commission, using pseudonyms to protect the identities of complainants and alleged perpetrators.

In one case an SABC employee alleged that during her first week working at the broadcaster, her manager gave her lingering hugs and remarked that she “smelled sexy”. The manager later said that he would buy her clothing in exchange for her letting him “feel her body”.

The complainant ultimately resigned from the broadcaster after receiving threatening photographs from an ally of her manager. Her husband, who also worked at the SABC, ended up resigning shortly after.

The couple eventually divorced, Watson said. “This is the tragic consequence of sexual harassment,” she added.

Watson said that most of the complainants who approached the commission work in radio. A number of the complaints came out of KwaZulu-Natal, a fact which meant it was the only province where hearings had to be held. No complaints came out of the Western Cape.

There is clear lack of leadership at the SABC in KwaZulu-Natal, Shozi said.

Shozi referenced recent reports that have emerged from Lotus FM radio station in Durban.

In October, Durban-based newspaper The Post reported that a manager at the radio station had been accused of sexual predation after he told women to send him naked selfies in exchange for jobs.

Watson said the commission also reached out to former Lotus FM presenter Vanessa Govender about sexual harassment at the radio station after the release of her recent book, Beaten But Not Broken.

In the book Govender writes of assaults and a case of forced sex at the hands of her partner, much occurring at the Lotus FM offices.

Watson said the commission asked Govender to confirm whether or not her alleged rapist was employed at the SABC. Govender confirmed that he had been twice employed by the broadcaster, Watson said.

According to the commission’s findings, most reports of sexual harassment came out of Lotus FM and Channel Africa.

Watson also noted that all but two of the complainants were freelancers, who she said bear the brunt of a culture of gender inequality because they are easily hired and fired.

The SABC has a large number of freelancers working on long-term contracts at the broadcaster. Last week the SABC announced it would be embarking on mass retrenchments, which could see 981 permanent employees and 1 200 freelancers losing their jobs.

READ MORE: SABC has no choice but to retrench — executives

In the wake of the announcement unions voiced concern over the high number of freelancers expected to be retrenched.

Many of the freelancers that are likely to lose their jobs have been working for the SABC for years and would be left with no benefits and no retrenchment packages, spokesperson for Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers Union (Bemawu), Hannes du Buisson, told the Mail & Guardian.

But Shozi said on Tuesday that unions at the SABC do not care about sexual harassment and have been generally unhelpful in dealing with these concerns.

Du Buisson said this allegation is “absolute nonsense”. The union complained about allegations of sex for jobs at the SABC and that is partly why the inquiry was set up in the first place, he told the M&G.

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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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