Pretoria - For the past two years, a commander in the ballistics section of the SAPS in Tshwane would stop by the office of a senior administration clerk almost daily and allegedly demand oral sex.
The commander would stand in front of the young married mother, pull down his pants and tell her: “You touch mine, I touch yours.” Fearing for her job and safety, the clerk said, she did as she was told.
The commander, whose name is known to the Pretoria News, would climax, fix up his clothes, and walk away. Failure to comply meant trouble as the commander would make unreasonable work-related demands on the clerk and give her verbal warnings for insubordination without following proper procedures, she said.
On the eve of Women’s Day, Mapula Makwela broke her silence to the Pretoria News, and agreed her name could be used. She asked, however, that her face not be shown in a photograph she agreed could be taken.
In a disciplinary hearing, the commander allegedly admitted his problems with her were personal. However, she said the management did nothing to follow up on this. At least two senior managers, among them a union leader, failed to respond to her calls for help as the harassment gained momentum.
She told the Pretoria News that should she refuse to give in to his demands, he would snap at her. He hugged female colleagues in her presence, and implied that he enjoyed sexual encounters with other women in the department too.
She said that if she did not smile or follow his orders to touch his genitals, her day would be hell. He put his hands under her clothes to fondle her breasts or genital area whenever he felt like it, and occasionally even penetrated her with his fingers, she said.
Makwela, a 29-year-old married mother of a 3-year-old boy, wept uncontrollably as she related graphic details of the past two years to Pretoria News journalists.
She said the abuse had left her emotionally torn, feeling dirty and useless. Her marriage was on the rocks because she could no longer bring herself to be intimate with her husband, who also worked in the police.
She said matters reached a crisis in the most dramatic fashion during a two-day departmental session to discuss career paths for employees.
Her abuser stood up and told everyone that she was insubordinate and regarded herself as being more special than anyone else. Makwela hit back, telling the meeting of the sexual harassment and victimisation she had endured, and said her superior was making false claims because she had refused to have sex with him.
It was then that she threatened to go public if the management did not respond.
The session was called off. She said her husband, who was present, was furious, as he had not expected the matter to be aired at an official event.
Eventually, the commander was suspended pending an investigation.
A psychologist’s report which the Pretoria News has seen stated that during therapy sessions, Makwela displayed symptoms of trauma such as hyper-vigilance, paranoia, intense apprehension, fearfulness, hopelessness, recurrent and intrusive thoughts. She is continuing to be counselled.
Makwela has written to several senior members of the police service, including national commissioner General Riah Phiyega.
The latter’s spokesman, Lieutenant-General Solomon Makgale, said the matter was receiving attention in accordance with departmental policies and prescripts. He confirmed that the officer had been suspended.
The investigation was at an advanced stage. The outcome would dictate further action within the confines of the departmental disciplinary code, he said.
In 2012, a report found that victims of sexual harassment in the ballistics division were reluctant to file complaints, fearing the impact it might have on their personal lives.
A brigadier implicated at the time resigned and no further investigation took place.
* The SAPS has a strict policy on sexual harassment, signed in 1998. In terms of the policy, it is the duty of everyone in the police service to take active steps to ensure employees are not subjected to any form of degradation. The policy extends to acts that happen away from work but within the course of employment and having an adverse effect on work.