When sexual harassment is rewarded with a golden handshake

In March 2017 a 44-year-old government female employee in the labour relations unit of the Sekhukhune District municipal council in Limpopo reportedly had to apply for a protection order against “the institution’s corporate services director.”

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#NotOurLeaders

16 Days of Activism to end violence against women

For release: late Thursday, 30 November 2017

WHEN SEXUAL HARASSMENT IS REWARDED WITH A GOLDEN HANDSHAKE

CASE 5: ANC – Sekhukhune Municipality director Phakane Phahlamohlaka

CASE 6: ICASA – Ex CEO Pakamile Pongwana

 In March 2017 a 44-year-old government female employee in the labour relations unit of the Sekhukhune District municipal council in Limpopo reportedly had to apply for a protection order against “the institution’s corporate services director.” The woman endured years of unwanted sexual advances, was coerced into sex and victimised when she tried to reject the unwanted advances – including being threatened with dismissal. Her complaints to her seniors were ignored for eight years. It was only upon probing by City Press newspaper that the municipality began taking action.

The corporate services director is not publicly named in relation to this matter, but reports show that the Sekhukhune municipality to have debated reports in May 2017 of sexual harassment by Phakane Phahlamohlaka, Director of Corporate Services in the municipality. Specifically, he was reported as demanding sex from female employees in exchange for their promotion. Phahlamohlaka was only then placed on a precautionary suspension pending an investigation into the reports, which established that there was good cause for a disciplinary hearing against him. Phahlamohlaka was reportedly “not willing to submit to a disciplinary process” and instead opted to resign and ask for a “golden handshake” at the same time.

At the end of August 2017, the Executive Mayor, Stanley Ramaila, proposed that the municipality give him a golden handshake of R600 000 paid over six months, as well as senior manager benefits. Both SAMWU and the DA opposed the proposed settlement. No further information is available regarding how this matter was finalised.

Also in March 2017, the media reported a case of sexual harassment by Pakamile Pongwana, the then CEO of the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa). Media reports subsequently speculated that Communications Minister at that time, Ayanda Dlodlo tried to “save” Pongwana from facing sexual harassment and other charges. On July 3, Dlodlo wrote to Icasa, requesting that Pongwana be seconded to head her department, despite the sexual harassment and other allegations against him. When reporting to the Portfolio Committee on Communications in Parliament on 7 November 2017, new Minister of Communications, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said that a report on the matter has been tabled and that "negotiations resulted in a settlement" of almost R1 million to Pongwana.  

These cases raise the following issues:

  • Abusers are able to evade disciplinary investigation and action for sexual misconduct, simply by resigning;
  • Not only were these men not ultimately held accountable, but they benefitted financially, and one protected by a senior official.

 

“The idea that someone can make money from sexual abuse, while their victim is fighting to protect herself, is repugnant. And yet this is exactly what happened here. To first drag your feet on taking action, and then reward a sexually abusive employee with a golden handshake, sends a destructive message to victims and other employees, and promotes rape culture” said Sanja Bornman from LHR.

 

Adds Lisa Vetten: “Resignations can circumvent lengthy disciplinary proceedings. But employers should think twice before accepting them under these circumstances and they most emphatically should not be offering handsome payouts to those leaving under such a cloud of suspicion. This is public money and should not be spent in this way. To do so may well constitute fraud.”

Sam Waterhouse of the Women and Democracy Initiative said, “Ministers Dlodlo and Kubayi-Ngubane’s actions on this matter are questionable and they must be called to account for their actions and the decisions that were taken, which have effectively contributed to Pongwana’s protection from being held accountable. Two separate legal opinions found grounds to discipline Pongwana, and a report recommended he be disciplined for physical sexual violation of a colleague, yet still he received the golden handshake. The protection of people accused of sexual violence normalizes, and in fact enables, sexual violence in all spheres of society.”

 

We demand action from the ANC, the Minister of Communications and Parliament

  • The #NotOurLeaders campaign is calling on the ANC-led Greater Sekhukhune District Municipal Council to reject Phakane Phahlamohlaka’s proposal of a golden handshake in exchange for his resignation. Phakane Phahlamohlaka must be subjected to the disciplinary sanctions applicable to his sexual misconduct, without any further delay.
  • We demand a public explanation by Minister of Communications, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, of the reason for the almost R1 million settlement with Pakamile Pongwana, when legal opinion urged disciplinary action.
  • Parliament must call Ministers Dlodlo and Kubayi-Ngubane to account for their decisions in the Pongwana matter.
  • Government and political parties must develop clear policy around resignations and generous settlements in circumstances where sexual misconduct is involved.

 

For comment contact:

Lisa Vetten, gender violence specialist, 082 822 6725

Sam Waterhouse, Women and Democracy Initiative, Dullah Omar Institute, 084 522 9646

Sanja Bornman, Lawyers for Human Rights, 083 522 2933

 

For more releases from #NotOurLeaders click here

 

RELATED MEDIA STORIES

https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/sexual-harassment-complaints-ignored-for-eight-years-20170521-2

http://limpopoonline.co.za/?p=13521

http://www.cosatu.org.za/docs/pr/2017/pr0510c.html

https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/icasas-alleged-sex-pest-gets-golden-handshake-of-almost-r1m-20171107

https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/did-dlodlo-try-to-save-a-sex-pest-20170729

 

About the #NotOurLeaders campaign

During this year’s 16 Days of Activism, the Women and Democracy Initiative (WDI) of the Dullah Omar Institute at the University of the Western Cape, Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), and gender violence specialist, Lisa Vetten, turn the spotlight on political representatives accused of sexual violence and the practices that protect and enable their sexual misconduct and abuse. By contrasting the range of incidents reported with parties’ inconsistent – even non-existent – responses, the campaign aims to demonstrate the chasm between political-speak and political actions on sexual violence.

The campaign emphasises the need for strong political leadership by all political parties and representatives in tackling the pervasive problem of sexual violence in South Africa.

 

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