Durban - The eThekwini Municipality is “crawling” with sex predators who prey on women colleagues because city fathers allegedly have done nothing about it.
The crisis was underscored this week by the case of a 27-year-old woman metro police officer who opened charges of kidnapping and sexual assault against her two politically connected senior colleagues.
Despite a resolution by metro police management on Monday to disarm the two officers and suspend them, the Sunday Tribune can reveal that no action has been taken. They also face a charge of defeating the ends of justice and are due to appear in court next week.
Neither metro police boss Eugene Nzama nor eThekwini Municipality’s communication department could explain why the officers had not been suspended – despite a letter from Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Rita Blumrick dated December 12 calling for their prosecution.
And in a move that has devastated the complainant and fired up women’s rights lobby groups, the South African Municipal Workers Union has pledged support for the accused, even appointing its lawyer Elco Geldenhuys – paid with union membership fees – to represent them.
Samwu provincial secretary Jaycee Ncanana said: “The information we have is that a war is being waged against our leadership in the municipal police.
“The shop stewards are challenging the metro police head. As a result, they’re trying to find anything that sees our shop stewards either go behind bars or lose their jobs. The complainant is being used to discredit them. That is why we will not forsake them.”
The DA’s caucus leader, Zwakele Mncwango, said sexual harassment was rampant in the city. He has vowed to put the issue back on the agenda, saying the city needs to act.
He will table a motion this week after news that the city ombudsman has dealt with 10 cases of sexual harassment in the past year.
Mncwango said: “This is just the tip of the iceberg. We believe the city is crawling with sex pests. We will be demanding to know how many cases there have been in recent years.”
Mncwango said this week an intern had confided in him that her boss was harassing her.
“He holds on to her hand for too long whenever she brings something to his office. He has also called her and sent her messages a couple of times propositioning her. She’s scared to report it, but she can’t let it continue.
“The big question is: how many of those cases are reported? Women are too afraid to report their superiors because they will lose their livelihood.”
IFP caucus leader Mdu Nkosi echoed Mncwango’s sentiments, saying sexual harassment had reached unacceptable levels.
“A lot of women are suffering. They find themselves hugely compromised after not following the proper route to get jobs.
“They become sex slaves not only to the people who get them the jobs, but anyone one else who knows about it is able to use that against them. They are vulnerable. It’s worse when you open a case and the person supposed to act doesn’t do so.”
Nkosi said the sexual harassment problem could be attributed to a “leadership crisis”.
Ethekwini Speaker Logie Naidoo accused opposition parties of “thumb-sucking” the extent of the problem. “The ANC has come out strongly against any form of violence against women. If we find evidence of harassment, we will take steps.”
The sensational story that will come before the court is outlined in an affidavit seen by the Sunday Tribune. In it the victim, a constable, describes in disturbing detail how she was held against her will for hours by a male officer who had offered her a lift home.
The alleged victim describes how the officer refused to drive her to her flat in Cato Manor, but instead went to a bush in Wyebank near Pinetown, where he allegedly exposed his genitals, tried to make her touch them while he masturbated and then smeared her with semen.
Throughout the ordeal the male officer’s colleague nearby ignored the woman’s pleas for help.
In 1999 the city’s head of parks, recreation and culture, Thembinkosi Ngcobo was scathing on the matter of sexual harassment in the city.
Presiding over an internal disciplinary inquiry, he said in his judgment there seemed to be a “deeply entrenched history and culture in the (metro) police of considering women employees, mostly in junior positions, as part of fringe benefits by influential and authoritative people.
“Women, most of them young, are victims here and responsible management cannot turn a blind eye to this problem.”
Despite this ruling, the municipality’s vaunted draft gender policy, compiled years ago, has yet to be finalised.
Repeated attempts to solicit comment from metro police and eThekwini Municipality’s communication department proved futile.
This week, Ngcobo said although he couldn’t speak for other departments, he had employed several strategies to change attitudes.
“We had serious sexual harassment problems, but after intervention the environment changed.
“The staff complexion has changed. The problem arises when they go back home where stereotypes are alive and well. We need to change the whole structure in communities. But it needs a will from managers to force people to change.”
Prominent psychologist Judith Ancer said the alleged victim in the latest incident seemed to have been repeatedly failed by society.
“There are multiple aspects to the trauma suffered by a victim of sexual assault, but in this case the complainant became a victim twice over when she was disbelieved and denied support by colleagues and superiors.
“She has been left with the sense that there is no justice for a woman in her position.”