South Africa


In search of policies on sexual harassment? Don’t ask most SA political parties

In search of policies on sexual harassment? Don’t ask most SA political parties
Pule Mabe during the ANC national executive committee media briefing after its two-day lekgotla on August 01, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Daily Sun / Lucky Morajane)

Though ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe has been cleared of sexual harassment following an internal hearing, one of the party’s resolutions in response to the matter has been to decide to adopt a sexual harassment policy within three months. That’s right: The 107-year-old ANC, 25 years in power, does not yet have a sexual harassment policy — and it appears that this may the norm for South African political parties.

Daily Maverick asked seven local political parties — excluding the ANC — to supply their sexual harassment policies.

Only two parties responded with the relevant policies. Another refused to give comment. The other four did not respond to the request — and a scan of party documents available online shows no sign of the four parties having drafted or implemented a sexual harassment policy.

What motivated our investigation was the announcement by the ANC on Monday that a “grievance hearing” into allegations of sexual harassment against party spokesperson Pule Mabe had produced the recommendation that “the ANC should within three months adopt a sexual harassment policy, and do training for all its management and staff in offices throughout the country on this policy”.

The panel considering the allegations against Mabe found “no evidence of sexual harassment”, and the matter was now “closed”.

Regardless of the outcome of this specific hearing, however, the revelation that the 107-year-old ANC does not have a sexual harassment policy in place is alarming. As we discovered, however, it may also be par for the course when it comes to South African political parties.

The two exceptions were the DA and Patricia de Lille’s recently established Good party.

Although Good was launched less than three months ago (in November 2018), a sexual harassment code already forms part of the party’s constitution. Spokesperson Cameron Arendse sent Daily Maverick the relevant clauses, which define sexual harassment as potentially encompassing a range of circumstances, from “querying a person’s sex life” to unwelcome physical contact.

The Good code notes that men and women may be the victims of sexual harassment, that such harassment can occur between members of the same sex as well as the opposite sex, and that the “perpetrators may be senior, equal or junior in position”. It states that offenders will be subject to “disciplinary procedures”, though these are not specified. It also does not specify the steps which may be taken to report sexual harassment.

The DA’s federal council adopted an extensive and impressive sexual harassment policy in July 2018. It applies to public representatives, DA members, and DA staff members, as well as non-DA members who have experienced sexual harassment by DA figures in the course of their duties.

As is the case with the Good code, the DA policy’s definition of sexual harassment is broad and takes in physical, verbal and non-verbal conduct. Importantly, the policy gives a detailed account of the procedure to be followed when reporting and investigating claims of sexual harassment. It also provides for confidentiality in such matters and explicitly prohibits retaliation against “a complainant who in good faith lodges a grievance of sexual harassment”.

Good — to a lesser extent — and the DA appears to be leading the pack when it comes to local political parties walking the talk on combating workplace sexual harassment.

Cope refused to give comment to Daily Maverick on this matter, with a spokesperson responding enigmatically:

The leadership is not convinced that this is not to do with Pule Mabe. They ask why are your questions coming now during Pule Mabe/ANC sex case. They don’t want to be associated with it.”

The Cope website does not display any policies related to sexual harassment, and there is no mention of the topic within the party’s constitution.

The EFF did not respond to questions about whether the party had a sexual harassment policy. The code of conduct for all EFF public representatives states:

No EFF public representatives must abuse women or children”, but that appears to be as far as it goes.

The same code includes such prescriptions as “No EFF public representative is allowed to sleep in committee meetings or sittings”, and “No EFF public representative shall attend a meeting without a notebook and a pen”.

The Freedom Front Plus and the UDM similarly failed to respond to requests for comment, and there is no indication of specific policies regarding sexual harassment in the party documents which are publicly available.

Ditto for the IFP, whose constitution still uses gendered language such as “we are committed to eradicating the rule of man and substituting it with the rule of law”.

The IFP’s constitution also states that one of the key duties of the party’s Women’s Brigade is to “play an instructive role” in the “upbringing of children in values and objectives of the party”.

Though the IFP prohibits “being in a state of drunkenness at a party meeting”, there is no evident prohibition on sexual harassment.

As for the ANC: What the ruling party appears to have been relying on instead of a sexual harassment policy is clause 25.17.8 of its constitution, which prohibits “engaging in sexual or physical abuse of women or children or abuse of office to obtain sexual or any other undue advantage from members or others”.

The apparent failure of South African political parties to move with the times when it comes to sexual harassment is doubly problematic when considering the track record of local politicians in this regard.

In 2017, the #NotOurLeaders campaign run by the Dullah Omar Institute named and shamed politicians from most of the large political parties who had been accused of crimes of gender-based violence and failed to receive any significant sanctions.

At the time, campaign leaders challenged political parties to release their sexual harassment policies — and, like Daily Maverick today, received almost no response.

This is despite the fact that sexual harassment policies in workplaces have been promoted by the government for more than two decades.

As far back as 1998, the Department of Labour published a Code of Good Practice which advised that sexual harassment policies should be implemented and complied with in all workplaces.

With the elections approaching in April, political parties will be vigorously assuring South African women that they have their best interests at heart. Perhaps voters should ask parties to prove it: It’s 2019, so where is your sexual harassment policy? DM


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