LETTER: Civil society condemns Satchwell report

LETTER

As members of civil society we strongly condemn the ‘findings’ of the Equal Education appointed panel of inquiry into sexual harassment, and stand by those whose voices and statements were dismissed by the panel because they asked for protection, and who have been dealt a great injustice as a result.

Rather than taking the opportunity to think deeply about how to craft a victim-centred approach to investigating sexual harassment and intimidation, the panel has hidden behind unconvincing legal and procedural arguments to dismiss all submissions because they were made anonymously. It considered the needs of powerful men over the submissions of 19 women who came forward to meet with lawyers and share their stories, some of whom agreed to be questioned via their lawyers, but chose not to disclose their names to the panel for fear of reprisal and retaliation.

We strongly condemn this. 

To ‘clear’ someone from wrongdoing and to call their version of events ‘plausible’ without considering any of the evidence submitted from victims is utterly inappropriate.

We are aware that sexual harassment and sexual abuse is widespread across all parts of South African society, including civil society, and we have seen how women who speak out about their experiences consistently face discrimination, abuse and threats on their well-being. We believe that until this changes, being able to submit complaints anonymously is vital for ensuring the safety of victims.

It is clear that this panel was never concerned with running a victim-centred process. Their lengthy report merely underscores how little they wish to empathise with those who said they were sexually harassed and abused. The language used in the report illustrates this; at one point Judge Kathleen Satchwell describes her feelings of ‘disgust’ for women who submit confidential testimony and choose not to expose their identity.

EDITORIAL: We will continue to tell the news

From the 19 submissions they did not consider, as well as ‘Jane’s’ account shared in the Mail and Guardian, it is obvious that there are many people who want to speak. Failing to consider this while ‘clearing’ Isaacs and Achmat of wrongdoing is wrong, and affirms the long held reputation of these men as powerful and therefore unaccountable.

We do not think that an inquiry like this can make any legitimate findings unless the survivors’ experiences have been considered as evidence.

We note that the only panellist with expertise in gender justice and women’s rights, Professor Manjoo, has distanced herself from this report and its findings, stating that “ I find myself unable to associate myself with the findings…. this report reads like a judgement and makes findings which include exonerating individuals — despite us not hearing the victims (by their choice), not discussing fully the 19 statements received (which we agreed was not evidence — but which we cannot pretend does not include substance worthy of our attention), and also not having tested the authenticity of documents produced, especially by Isaacs and Achmat….”.

READ MORE: Independent inquiry clears former Equal Education leaders

We call for Equal Education to make a public statement acknowledging the shortcomings of the ‘findings’, distancing itself from the report and committing to a properly victim-centred approach to set a precedent for adequately and sensitively dealing with sexual harassment.

Following the publication of this letter, the following people added their names to this statement — David Lydall, Camaren Peter, Indira Govender, Claudia Gastrow, Fezile Kanju, Vuyiswa Doo, Jane Qui, Jennifer Radloff, Gcobani Qambela, Phumi Mtetwa, Niall Reddy, Nolene Morris, Femke Brandt, Daniel Mackintosh, Sithabile Ncube, Tapuwa Moore, Zaide Harneker, Astrid Turner, Gathoni Blessol, Gavin Singh, Sham Moodley, Buhle Xaba, Arvin Nirmal, Mishca Peters, Rahma Leuner, Anand Govender, Katleho Shoro, Pancho Ramith, Janine Moolman, Paddy Nhlapo, Sarah Delius, Rajendra Govender, Daniel Moss, Gcinashe Nqabeni, Candice Sehoma, Tarryn De Kock, Nailla Dollie, Nokubonga Ralayo and Lynsey Bourke.

Signed below:

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Advertisting

South Africa has been junked

Treasury says the credit ratings downgrade “could not have come at a worse time”, as country enters a 21-day Covid-19 lockdown with little money saved up

Mail & Guardian needs your help

Our job is to help give you the information we all need to participate in building this country, while holding those in power to account. But now the power to help us keep doing that is in your hands

Press Releases

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world

SAB Zenzele special AGM rescheduled to March 25 2020

New voting arrangements are being made to safeguard the health of shareholders

Dimension Data launches Saturday School in PE

The Gauteng Saturday School has produced a number of success stories