“CAPE TOWN – Students at the University of Cape Town (UCT) claim internal processes to address sexual violence on campus, are failing them.
“We’re definitely looking into just approaching the Gender Commission and the Human Rights Commission and looking into an outside and external body actually investigating what is happening on this campus,” said Dela Gwala from UCT Survivors.
A Sexual Assault Response Team has been set up to deal with demands made by protestors and issues of sexual violence on campus.
The university says it’s reviewing several policies but warns that meeting some demands may have legal ramifications.”
**One of the first stories I pitched and covered was the UCT nude protests in solidarity with similar protests against sexual violence and harassment at SA universities. Very important issue that I will continue to follow up on.
Prof Rupert Taylor has become the third Wits lecturer to be fired following a university investigation into allegations of sexual harassment.
Political studies department head Prof Daryl Glaser confirmed to Wits Vuvuzela that Taylor, formerly a senior lecturer, has been dismissed after a four-month inquiry.
“I am relieved that the process has come to a conclusion,” said Glaser.
Glaser said he had just been told of Taylor’s dismissal on Thursday afternoon. He said would comment further when he had more information.
Taylor was forced to step down as head of the political studies department last year following a report in Wits Vuvuzela of sexual harassment allegations made against him by students.
In March of this year, Taylor was put on special leave and made to leave university premises.
Taylor had denied the allegations at the time, telling Wits Vuvuzela: “I am deeply upset and concerned about the damaging allegations that have been published against me.”
Taylor is the third lecturer to be dismissed after allegations of sexual harassment were lodged against him. Former head of the media studies department Dr Last Moyo and former senior drama lecturer Tsepo wa Mamatu were fired in August following investigations.
In a statement regarding the most recent dismissal, Vice Chancellor Prof Adam Habib said the university had adopted a “zero tolerance” policy towards sexual harassment.
“We hope that the swift action taken by the university in these three cases, sets a clear example that sexual harassment will not be tolerated in any form on our campuses,” Habib said. Wits Vuvuzela has so far been unable to contact Taylor for comment on his dismissal.
Wits has pledged to undertake a multidimensional approach to issues of sexual harassment on campus by formulating a special task team initiated by the vice chancellor’s office. These measures and others were announced today at a press conference called to make the findings of an independent inquiry into issues of sexual harassment at Wits University.
Vice chancellor Prof Adam Habib said he takes full responsibility for the abuses that happened at Wits and that the report highlights the failure of the university’s system to address rumours and allegations decisively.
Habib added that the university welcomes the recommendations and will form a Senior Executive Team to start a plan of action on how the issue of sexual harassment will be dealt with, in line with the culture of the institution.
The special task team will originate from the VC’s office and comprise various experts from within the university including gender specialists, the transformation office, sexual harassment advisors, legal expertise and student representatives.
Habib said student representatives will not be solely from the SRC but from various sectors of the student body.
Difficulties of investigation
Prof Bonita Meyersfeld, the director of the Centre of Applied Legal Studies at Wits was part of the team who compiled the report together with lawyers from law firm Norton Rose. She said this was one of the most difficult inquiries to undertake.
“The inquiry was one of the most difficult tasks for the whole team to undertake because we were dealing with our own university. But it was important and totally worth it.”
Meyersfeld said students and members of staff were initially reluctant to speak to them but in the last two months of the inquiry they were more willing to come forward.
“The emotion involved in both students and staff alike is evident throughout the university and administration. Students felt they were not listened to and not taken seriously.”
Meyersfeld said the students were also worried about following the legal process as they were worried about being re-traumatised by speaking to various entities about the same incident.
Members of staff, although they shared the same sentiments also worried about the threat posed to their careers if they came forward.
“Two have been dismissed and another who began investigations will hopefully be released to me tomorrow. The fourth is yet to begin.”
The on-going investigation is that of Prof Rupert Taylor, while the one that has not yet begun is that of Dr Lord Mawuko. This was confirmed by a reliable source who did not want to be named.
Meyersfeld said while there were other perpetrators discovered during the inquiry. However cases were dealt with on a confidential basis and unless students asked for their accusations to be pursued, they were not.
Habib added: “We pursued various other avenues to get to the bottom of it [new cases]. But in those instances our findings yielded no further investigation.”
Habib thanked the media for blowing the whistle on issues of sexual harassment as this forced the university to take immediate action.
Eyebrows have been raised sky high in response to a lunch hosted by lawyers investigating sexual harassment charges at Wits.
Lawyers from Bowman Gilfillan invited a group of the harassment “victims” to an intimate lunch at Papa Vino’s in Rosebank last week – a move that many are saying is a little out of kilter with professional practice.
The email invitation sent by Bowman Gilfillan said: “We thought it fitting to arrange a lunch for all students affected by sexual harassment at Wits where all of us can meet in an informal setting and provide support for one another.”
It was made clear they would not be asking any questions related to the various sexual harassment cases at the lunch.
The lunch by the firm might have been very innocent in its intent but the ethical implications need to be taken into account, according to some legal experts.
Dr Murray Wesson, lecturer at the School of Law, University of Western Sydney said the lunch was “in bad practice”.
“Lawyers should not confer with multiple witnesses at the same time about issues that may be contentious at a subsequent hearing. The reason is that this may give rise to collusion or the appearance of collusion,” said Wesson.
Wesson said while the invitation states that people will not be interviewed at the lunch, it also says that students will be able to drive discussions with one another.
His concerns are around the fact that in such a relaxed and informal setting, conversation could lead to the allegations of the various cases.
Wits Centre for Ethics director Professor Lucy Allias said she found the lunch “strange”. She added that she did not understand how the invitation could be considered appropriate.
She said: “It seems to me very strange to invite victims of a highly personal, potentially extremely traumatic kind of abuse to a joint social event.”
One of the students, or accusers, who was invited but did not attend said: “I don’t want to be with other victims, all of us sitting around and feeling sorry for ourselves.”
Response Wits Vuvuzela contacted Kirti Menon to get the University’s comment, she said: “I don’t think the venue is relevant and at this stage in the university investigations I would not like to comment further.” Wits Vuvuzela had been told that the sexual harassment cases are currently being wrapped up and the final reports will be out by the end of the month.
DR LAST Moyo has stepped down as head of the Media Studies department pending an official investigation following allegations of sexual harassment published in the Wits Vuvuzela.
The paper reported that several former students are accusing Moyo of improper conduct and said ordinary encounters with him took on “sexual” overtones.School of Literature, Language and Media head Libby Meintjes said the first she heard of these allegations was in the newspaper.
Meintjes said that she encourages those with allegations to make formal complaints for the official investigation. As Wits Vuvuzela went to press, two of the alleged victims contacted the paper and said they had laid formal complaints against Moyo.
Separate from the official investigation, Meintjes said a sexual harassment committee is being put in place by the School to assist their students with sexual harassment issues. The committee is made up of staff who volunteered and others chosen by Meintjes. It is different than the campus-wide inquiry currently taking place.
Wits Vuvuzela contacted some of Moyo’s alleged victims for comment on the recent developments.They said they were pleased with the direction things were headed. They think the measures that are being taken will help them if they decide to formalise their complaints but weren’t sure if they would in take the matter further.
“I’m not sure I want to go any further than I have, I just want to move on. I do hope the investigation is taken seriously and deals with the matter,” said one of the accusers who asked for anonymity.
While an official investigation has been launched, Meintjies took issue with the way Wits Vuvuzela reported the story. She said journalist Dineo Bendile should not have reported the story as she too had complained of Moyo’s behaviour. Meintjes believes Bendile might be viewed as biased.
In addition to leaving his position as head of department, Moyo has also stepped down as assistant dean of Internationalisation and Partnerships.
The sexual harassment committee’s first order of business will be to hold a public meeting on March 18 at 1.15pm at SH6.
Its purpose is to inform students on what constitutes sexual harassment, how to deal with it and where they should go to report any incidences. Meintjes said that they hoped to facilitate discussion through their meeting.