Editorial: Root out sexual abuse at work

When a woman walks into her place of work, there is one question she should never have to ask: “Am I safe?”

Too many South African women have, at some point, been forced to feel fear in their workplace because of sexual predation and patriarchy. In the Mail & Guardian this week, we report on allegations of sexual harassment at a state-owned entity. The allegations have emerged in a swirl of other allegations about mismanagement and abuses of power. It is clear that the organisation, like so many others, has failed to implement ways to deal with sexual harassment despite chilling stories of abuse.

This week, the ANC was once more dealing with allegations of sexual harassment by senior leaders. We would have thought that, when Fezeka “Khwezi” Kuzwayo was forced into exile after accusing Jacob Zuma of rape, the ANC and other political parties would have instituted mechanisms to allow women to report sexual abuse safely.

Instead, the party failed to take immediate action against former Western Cape ANC leader Marius Fransman. It has only acted now that the National Prosecuting Authority has decided to institute charges.

We would have thought that, when women activists protested against rape at universities, at home or even by their comrades in the anti-apartheid struggle, the activists of today would have done better to eradicate sexual abuse in their own structures.

Our reporting on sexual harassment claims at Equal Education has been met with animosity and defensiveness by some of those who have been accused of abusing their authority in professional spaces. It is the height of unprofessional conduct and human depravity to threaten women sexually, but those accused remain lauded by some for the “good work” they do. And for those who want to see justice done, there is still some confusion about how to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace.

We can force a corrupt president to be kicked out of power, we can send people into space but, somehow, many workplaces can’t find a standard to deal with sexual abuse and protect women.

The ANC this week may have finally done something differently. When it became public that ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe was accused by a 26-year-old employee of sexual abuse, he was sent on leave and an inquiry was launched after the woman made a complaint to the party.

But there is still something wrong with a system in which women can be abused while they are working. There is still something wrong with a system if a woman has to go to work and ask: “Am I safe?”

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