A sexual harassment victim at the Mpumalanga provincial legislature may have used the incident to blackmail the legislature speaker and secretary into giving her a job with better perks in exchange for her silence.
In a letter, which was leaked to Ziwaphi, dated 03/06/2016, the alleged victim, who may not be named, makes her demands for a more senior position to the legislature speaker, Thandi Shongwe and secretary Linda Mwale.
“I am offering a solution to this matter as follows: (1) A transfer out of the legislature to another government department to be organised by the offices (sic) of the Speaker and or Office of the Secretary. (2) The new post must be a director position at any Mpumalanga government department within 30 days of receiving this offer,” reads the letter.
The letter also reveals that the victim did not want to be transferred within the units of the legislature, but demanded to be placed in a government department.
“At this point I want to make it absolutely clear that a simple job transfer for its own sake will just be consistent with notions of secondary abuse as it assumes that I am the problem that must be removed. So in the interest of restorative justice, a compensative action of transferring me to a director position out of the legislature is restorative (addresses the pain and injury caused on me by my employer) without being retributive to the offender,” reads the letter.
The principle of separation of powers and the different working conditions prohibits the legislature from transferring its staff to government. The victim, however, was eventually transferred from the section which is led by the alleged perpetrator, to another section. While the position is at the same level as her previous one, it has different working conditions and perks, such as a vehicle subsidy.
The letter also reveals what appears to be the victim’s frustration on the lack of action by Mwale to take action against the senior manager who started harassing her during a strategic planning session of the legislature’s corporate services unit.
“Your well documented inaction after I have informed you of this (sexual harassment) and having received a written undertaking from you promising to act but did not. All this has led to a breakdown of trust I have put on you, and you also have to admit that your credibility as defenders of principle and law on this matter has also suffered…” reads the letter.
According to the letter, the victim also threatened Mwale that she would expose the incident to several organisations, including the media.
“I have received a lot of advice, both legal and otherwise, from a myriad of people who, by their vested interest in human rights, women’s rights, workplace rights (in the form of Legal Resource Centre, Wits Law Clinic, and some political formations and media groups) who offered to take up my cause and if not, advised me on the cause (sic) of action open to me in exercising my rights as a victim of workplace abuse and sexual misconduct,” reads the letter.
Sources within the legislature claim that the victim spent almost three months being hospitalised following the alleged sexual harassment. The letter confirms the claims.
“The emotional and psychological scars of being hospitalised in a psychiatric institution, my children’s fear of seeing their only parent in a weak position and going for weeks being without her, their ongoing fear that their mother may not come back from work one day, the trauma to my children of having to organise (an) ambulance service for their mother at 8 and 13 years of age, demands that there must be some compensation in a meaningful way,” reads the letter.
In the letter, Mwale is given a 30-day ultimatum to heed to her demands.
“In the event of non-satisfactory report on the 30th, I will reserve the exclusive right to exercise my options/ rights in terms of the constitution of South Africa.
Following this letter, the victim followed up on the threats. The Commission on Gender Equality (CGE) confirmed, in a response to a Promotion of Access to Information Act application, that the victim reported the matter to them.
“In terms of the CGE Gazetted Complaints Manual, we are required to send an allegation letter to the respondent within 10 days after the complaint has been accepted by the CGE. In the premise we received this complaint on the 29th June 2016. An allegation letter was consequently sent to the respondent on 30th June 2016,” said CGE Chief Executive Officer, Keketso Maema.
It was after the 30th June that the victim was transferred to another unit within the legislature, with better perks, including a car.
Following her appointment into the new position, the victim withdrew the case against the senior manager. The CGE has confirmed the withdrawal.
“We can further confirm that the complainant has withdrawn her complaint and any further correspondence can be addressed to her,” said Maema.
The victim has refused to answer media enquiries.
“Where did you get my number? I respect your job because it puts food on the table, but I’m not gonna answer anything to the media. So, I’ll drop this call”, said the victim, before she hung up, when contacted for comment earlier this year.
Legislature spokesperson, Zamagambu Memela-Gamede denied the allegations.
“As the legislature we wish to put it categorically clear that the secretary to the legislature has never received any threatening letter of demands from any of the legislature employees. The alleged demands made to the legislature remain allegations, as there has never been a letter from the said employee demanding transfer out of the legislature nor a new director position not even medical leave extension.
“The employee that you are implicating in your questions joined the legislature in the year 2014 as an assistant manager, a level of which she still maintains even today,” said Memela-Gamede in a written response.
The legislature has consistently denied that there was a sexual harassment case reported against the senior manager.
When asked if the Commission on Gender Equality was lying by claiming that they have approached the legislature about the allegations, Memela-Gamede failed to respond.