Protect women against sex pests in the workplace

Mbuyiselo Botha Gender Imbizo
Mineworkers at LanXess are commended for taking action in support of their sexually harassed colleague by going underground for a protest which eventually bore fruit. / SANDILE NDLOVU
Mineworkers at LanXess are commended for taking action in support of their sexually harassed colleague by going underground for a protest which eventually bore fruit. / SANDILE NDLOVU

Katlego Mogwera is my heroine; she stood up to her Goliath. She reported sexual harassment to LanXess chrome mine management a year ago and nothing happened.

LanXess chrome mine in Rustenburg must hang its head in shame, for showing no care for Mogwera's wellbeing and justice.

Mogwera and colleagues are an embodiment of the slogan "an injury to one is an injury to all" after they staged an underground sit-in at the mine in protest against sexual harassment.

Mogwera had this to say about her alleged sexual harasser: "My life has never been the same ever since the sexual harassment started in May last year. He started by calling me into his office, demanding my cellphone number. He then went on to fondle my breasts, threatening that my career would never go anywhere as he was the only person who had powers to give me a higher position."

"I reported the case to our HR but my pleas fell on deaf ears. He started going underground to make my life difficult as he would force me to drill using big machinery. I reported the matter at the Rustenburg police station and he was arrested in October last year.

"Unfortunately I don't know what happened to the case as I was also hospitalised for a month because of depression."

I wonder what SAPS is saying about what seems to be inaction on their part.

This is an indictment on the mine and the police. Sexual harassment is often considered a nonissue in the workplace and to find a union standing up to it is something we should be proud of as South Africans.

It is my contention that sexual harassment has nothing to do with sex but it is about power. The perpetrator made Mogwera's life hell, because he knew he had power and she was powerless. The power of the perpetrator and LanXess management was challenged because Mogwera was supported by her colleagues and Numsa's pulling power.

Their underground sit-in was able to get management to finally listen and take this matter with the seriousness it deserves. It is quite scary that a woman has to be supported by close to 300 colleagues and a union, for her case to be heard.

Not every woman will get this support and it is not every woman who can garner such immense collective solidarity that is able to shut down a mine.

This case, like many others, exposes the failure of the structures of society put in place to protect victims and survivors of abuse.

Mogwera went to the company's human resources department and to the police.

What failed her were the structures meant to ensure she is protected.

I hope other trade unions and companies will wake up and smell the coffee. It cannot be business as usual when workers are subjected to continuous degradation and inhumane treatment.

Sexual policies on their own are not enough, it is the application and effectiveness which can bring a difference in the lived experiences of women in the workplace.

Thank you Katlego Mogwera for standing up and saying loudly that "so far and not further". To her colleagues, there is power in numbers indeed.

I hope that the corporate world will not continue ignoring the struggles of women in the workplace. The structures put in place must be seen and felt to be effective.

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