Sexual harassment accuser claimed she protected ‘overboarded’ Pityana

Sipho Pityana’s accuser claimed she defended the then-AngloGold Ashanti board chair against shareholders who wanted him out for “overboarding” — the term used to describe directors who serve on too many boards.

These details are in the review of AngloGold’s investigation into a sexual harassment complaint made against Pityana prior to his resignation from the mining company. 

The investigation, by Heidi Barnes SC, found that Pityana committed both verbal and physical sexual harassment against his accuser, whom the Mail & Guardian has not named. 

Pityana was accused of telling the complainant he was in love with her and holding her hand in the car on the way to her hotel from dinner. When they reached the Rosebank Holiday Inn, where she was staying, Pityana allegedly asked if he could park his car and come up to her room. Pityana has denied the allegations.

He resigned as AngloGold’s board chair less than two months after Barnes was appointed to look into the complaint.

According to a statement by the complainant, on 21 May 2020 shareholder advisory firm Glass Lewis recommended against Pityana for “overboarding”. 

“I worked through the night to get them to amend their report and overturn this recommendation,” Pityana’s accuser said.

Eight days later, global investment manager BlackRock flagged concerns about Pityana’s time commitment with the company, the accuser noted, and on 1 June 2020 investment manager Ruffer “flagged a similar concern about succession planning for the chairman and his independence given his long tenure”.

“I put in the work to engage with these shareholders to encourage them to either vote in favour of or abstain so that his role would not be affected. I was successful, and both BlackRock and Ruffer abstained from voting on this point,” Pityana’s accuser added.

“I know that this man does not deserve anything from me or this organisation. Having to defend him and craft a narrative to protect his post went against the truth.”

Pityana laid bare the circumstances of his resignation as AngloGold board chair in an affidavit to the high court in Pretoria, where he is taking on the South African Reserve Bank’s Prudential Authority for allegedly flouting the process by blocking his nomination as Absa board chair. 

The banking regulator, Pityana alleges, took the decision after being made aware of the sexual harassment complaint against him. 

In his affidavit Pityana says his AngloGold resignation had little to do with the sexual harassment allegation. Instead, he claims his sudden departure from AngloGold was in light of “heightened conflicts among directors”.

In an interview with the M&G, Pityana said his resignation was a result of ructions among the mining company’s directors, who were split on how to deal with the alleged misconduct of former chief executive Kelvin Dushnisky.

Pityana said he was also on the wrong side of the push to move the mining company’s primary listing to London — allegedly championed by his successor Maria Ramos — which he suspects was behind a damning sexual harassment complaint against him.

In response to Pityana’s allegations, the AngloGold board defended Ramos and said it has complete confidence in the company’s processes and decisions in relation to the events raised by Pityana, “which are aligned with the highest standards of confidentiality, integrity and good governance”.

In his affidavit Pityana also refers to a review of Barnes’ investigation, commissioned by the Absa board and conducted by lawyer Peter Harris, which found that Barnes’ investigation was flawed.

When asked about the Absa board’s decision to review Barnes’ investigation, the bank did not provide any direct answers and simply confirmed it had been cited in court proceedings. Absa has filed a notice of intention to oppose.

Harris’s report, which the M&G has seen, found that Barnes did not take all the relevant evidence into account and that she failed to obtain important corroborating evidence from independent sources. The report does not make any finding on the veracity of Pityana’s accuser’s allegations.

These omissions, the report submits, “render the report of Ms Barnes flawed in that not all the relevant evidence was considered, nor were independent witnesses interviewed to obtain that evidence”.

Pityana’s accuser’s alleged defence of him is pointed out in Harris’s review as “a clear dispute of fact” that should have been corroborated.

In response to his accuser’s assertions, Pityana said in a statement to Barnes that he would have never requested or put any pressure on her to come to his defence “on any issue within the business or in front of shareholders”. 

“There is no explanation provided regarding why the complainant felt it was necessary to come to my defence especially after the alleged multiple instances wherein I supposedly made her uncomfortable by way of improper advances. I am shocked and surprised by the complainant’s admission of lying to shareholders for any reason whatsoever,” he said.

“She has said having to defend [me] and having to craft a narrative to protect [my] post went against the truth. This leaves me to wonder what else the complainant is prepared to be untruthful about. AGA [AngloGold Ashanti] is a business that places a premium on integrity.”

Pityana maintained in his statement that it is untrue that his accuser asked shareholders not to vote against him.The Prudential Authority, which falls under the administration of the South African Reserve Bank, did not respond to questions about whether it considered Harris’s report before blocking Pityana’s nomination as Absa board chair. The central bank said it would not be appropriate for it to comment on the matter because it is before the courts.

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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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