Husband and wife forced to quit SABC jobs after sexual harassment

A couple has quit working at the SABC over sexual harassment allegations.
A couple has quit working at the SABC over sexual harassment allegations.

One case of alleged sexual harassment at the SABC led to a husband and wife resigning from the public broadcaster before they got divorced.

“This is the tragic cost of sexual harassment. A family that was stable‚ a husband and wife that were working‚ suddenly they are living in abject poverty‚ just because of sexual harassment‚” chairperson of the independent commission of inquiry into sexual harassment at the SABC Barbara Watson said on Tuesday.

“Sexual harassment might look like a minor crime‚ but the impacts can be quite horrendous.”

The commission presented its findings at the SABC’s offices in Auckland Park‚ Johannesburg‚ on Tuesday. This was one of the cases the commission investigated.

The wife’s line manager was on the interviewing panel that hired her. He was on leave during her first week at the public broadcaster. He greeted her in her office when he returned.

“In the process‚ he gave her a hug‚ but she said that hug was very long and was suspicious.”

He then said her perfume smells “sexy” and wished they shared an office.

“She further reported that every day he would stare at her in a way she found offensive.”

He insisted she should address him by his first name and told her: “I notice that you like nice clothes. If you can allow me to feel your body‚ I will buy you anything you like.”

She was shocked and backed away. He told her that he would not hurt her. She then told him that she is married and respects him as a manager.

“Her husband worked at the SABC at the time. [He] was also an HR person. This woman‚ when she went home‚ she would always discuss this with her husband.”

After turning down her line manager’s advances‚ he started victimising her at work.

“He sent a colleague to her desk with a picture of a gun and asked this man [the colleague] to tell Ms J [the victim] that he [the line manager] was a soldier and show the picture of the gun [to her].”

He also sent her an email with photos of suffocating pigs‚ among others things.

She resigned after the work environment became too stressful. The woman complained internally but it was never resolved before she resigned. She then approached the Commission for Conciliation‚ Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) but it was thrown out on a technicality.

Commission member Mfanozelwe Shozi said: “What was left to this woman was to take this case to the labour court and she does not have money to do so and the SABC knew exactly that.”

Meanwhile‚ her husband saw what was happening but did not want to interfere. He ultimately decided to resign.

Shozi said: “Unemployment caused by sexual harassment‚ poverty of children‚ these are the impacts of sexual harassment.”

The alleged perpetrator was not held accountable.

The commission’s investigation revealed that:

  • 10 cases were lodged directly by victims;
  • 25 SABC officials were interviewed; - Seven cases were lodged by whistleblowers;
  • 11 alleged perpetrators were interviewed;
  • Two trade unions were engaged;
  • 20 external witnesses were called;
  • and 40 comprehensive submissions were provided.

The commission found:

  • None of the alleged offenders was suspended or charged with sexual harassment. The alleged perpetrators often continued working and were then later found guilty of a lesser charge such as unprofessional behaviour;
  • There was a strong perception that HR and senior managers often colluded with alleged perpetrator in cover-ups;
  • Employees rarely blew the whistle because they feared losing their jobs‚ there was a lack of trust and lost confidence in HR;
  • and HR and most senior managers lacked knowledge and understanding of human rights statutes‚ gender relations and power relations between men and women.
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