Sexual harassment commission labelled a farce after bid to make whistle-blower’s account public
Men accused of sexual harassment, women who say they were victims, unions and even whistle-blowers have all complained bitterly about the SABC’s commission of inquiry into sexual harassment.
Many of the findings made by the commission – branded a Mickey Mouse operation by others – and presented to the public in November, have to do with the alleged goings-on at Lotus FM in Durban, a radio station torn apart by infighting.
Now the SABC’s own employee relations division is accused by a whistle-blower of trying to admit a highly confidential email he sent to the commission as evidence in a labour matter.
Last Monday, in Durban, former Lotus programme manager Santosh Beharie expressed his shock to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), where he is fighting to get his job back.
“I was shocked when I realised that a confidential email I submitted to the SABC’s sexual harassment commission had now popped up as evidence in the legal bundle of the SABC against me,” he said.
“I immediately instructed my union president, Hannes du Buisson, to make an application to the commissioner to rule against the admissibility of the email. The commissioner will make his ruling when the case resumes on July 9.”
Beharie and others say they now fear that their private complaints are compromised, after the commission promised confidentiality.
The email names more than a dozen current and former Lotus and SABC staffers, and could severely damage their reputations if made public.
“The only reason I, like scores of other men and women nationwide, wrote to the commission was because we were guaranteed anonymity. I dread to think what will happen if all their submissions were made public now or sometime in the future. There is no guarantee any longer of anonymity after what happened to me,” Beharie said.
Beharie and Du Buisson, president of the Broadcasting, Electronic, Media & Allied Workers Union (Bemawu), say that they believe the SABC tried to introduce the confidential email into evidence to prove Beharie is at war with two SABC bosses and should not be employed by the public broadcaster.
After sending questions to the SABC, City Press was called to a meeting on Friday at its Auckland Park headquarters, where spokesperson Vuyo Mthembu said the SABC “provided the document in question only to Beharie himself”.
“The document has not yet formed part of the official arbitration proceedings and therefore is not accessible to members of the public, pending the commissioner’s ruling on [its] admissibility.”
But Du Buisson, who attended CCMA proceedings last Monday, hit back, saying: “The document was handed to me, the human resources manager and the commissioner. It is in the CCMA file and can be accessed by anyone. Our objection was overruled and we were told to raise the admissibility of the evidence on relevance once it is presented.
“So, the document was allowed. It is only its evidentiary value based on relevance that will be decided upon.”
Several men implicated in the commission’s report have been found not guilty, at least one because a woman alleged to have been harassed was unwilling to testify.
The ‘sex tape’ saga
Another complaint last week came from actress and broadcaster Mishka Gounden, whose case had the commission up in arms.
Gounden, a popular on-air Lotus presenter, had her contract terminated after sexy videos she had taken of herself and sent only to a romantic interest, a man attached to Lotus, suddenly appeared on WhatsApp and spread through her conservative community.
She attempted suicide after being relentlessly shamed, a situation exacerbated after the station axed her for bringing it into disrepute.
While the SABC acted swiftly on all the report’s findings, it has not offered Gounden her job back.
Mthembu said last week that the report’s recommendations “do not stipulate that Ms Gounden must be reinstated by the SABC”.
However, Gounden’s case was foregrounded by the commission’s Mfanozelwe Shozi at the November press conference.
Although her case was apparently not contained in its final report, the commission was at pains to stress that Gounden’s rights had been violated.
Shozi said: “The SABC corroborated with the person who distributed the pictures and videos instead of hearing the story of this woman and what happened. We found that the human rights of that particular victim were violated and she was gender-oppressed … The SABC should really look into that matter.”
Various SABC staffers claimed that Lotus listeners complained about Gounden, leading to her contract being terminated. But the SABC did not respond to requests to view these complaints, and Lotus sources said none were received.
Gounden said last week: “I loved my job and it was an absolute dream and honour to work at Lotus. The station was my passion and my life. I just wanted to be a broadcaster, informing, educating and entertaining South Africa.
“Instead, I was sex-shamed by a former Lotus FM employee. I was secondarily sex-shamed when I was fired, and I continue to be sex-shamed by the SABC refusing to accept the expressed wishes of the sexual harassment commission.”
Gounden has since gone on to play the role of Mira Rampersad in e.tv’s hit show, Imbewu: The Seed.
e.tv spokesperson Lerato Maboi said: “Mishka’s character on Imbewu continues to receive positive feedback from e.tv viewers and we look forward to seeing her grow on the show.”