Probe links ex-Rhodes lecturer to sexual harassment claims

A probe into allegations of sexual harassment against a former Rhodes University senior politics lecturer found there was a prima facie case against the former lecturer.

However, the university was unable to act on it as the complainant chose not to cooperate.

The staff member in question has since left and is no longer employed at the university.

In November last year the university’s vice-chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela, established an independent investigation after alleged victims posted allegations on social media.

The investigation concluded that there were prima facie indications that the staff member concerned had, at the very least, engaged in an act of sexual harassment in regard to one complainant.

According to the university spokeswoman, Ilva Pieterse, the investigation was conducted by an external independent investigator who is an advocate of the high court and who has enormous experience in gender-based violence cases.

Pieterse said the investigation was concluded in March.

The report from the investigator was then circulated via an internal e-mail to university staff members, student bodies, and relevant associates.

The e-mail, put out by the communication and advancement division, “on behalf of Rhodes University”, and which was seen by the Dispatch, states that the person who posted the allegations remains unknown, despite attempts to obtain their identity.

A thorough investigation was conducted and all potential complainants who could be identified and traced were interviewed and informed of all available options.

The communication states: “The interviews revealed one particular matter in relation to a particular student, which the investigator viewed to potentially be worthy of consideration.

“Unfortunately the information provided in the interviews in regard to this aspect was second- or third-hand. To this end the potential complainant was traced in order to properly determine the nature of the potential complaint.”

The e-mail states that the investigator was unable to interview the complainant, who was extremely reluctant to be interviewed, but agreed to participate in an interview following an undertaking by the investigator to keep the complainant’s identity confidential.

“In the interview with the investigator, the potential complainant indicated that the complainant was not aware of the source of the relevant social media posts and knew nothing of the allegations therein contained. Despite offers of support, the potential complainant was insistent that the matter not be taken any further.”

According to the investigator’s report, the members of the department of political and international studies had tried to assist the complainant prior to the social media posts, and this assistance was offered in a sensitive and appropriate manner but the complainant had declined all such offers of assistance.

“In the absence of a complainant who wishes to lodge a complaint in regard to the staff member in question, the university is unable, in accordance with relevant internal requirements and labour legislation, to consider pursuing any form of disciplinary action at this stage,” stated the e-mail.

In the past years, the university has been shaken by similar cases of alleged sexual violence.

Students have been hosting silent protests against sexual violence annually since 2007.

In April last year, through the #Chapter212 poster campaign, students detailed alleged instances of the university’s failure to address sexual violence.

Also last year, students at the university embarked on a campaign to name alleged sexual assault perpetrators during a “reference list campaign”, which “outed” alleged rapists linked to the institution on social media. It sparked a national debate about rape culture on campuses.

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